Saturday, April 16, 2011

Commonplace or Sublime

A couple years ago when I was trying to delude myself into thinking I could write straight romances (I can't, I nearly went nuts writing Love In the Air), Harlequin was offering free books for their 60th anniversary.  So I downloaded several of them and never read them until the last few days.  Because Mr. Nook is a fixture in my life now and I can see to read.

If you want to be a better writer, you have to read books written by better writers than yourself.  In some genres this may be pretty darn near impossible but I betcha it can be done.

I learned a huge amount about writing, not mystery writing just writing, from Ross McDonald.  He was an accomplished and skillful writer, a man who used his mind.  His work is carefully crafted.  I learned how to create metaphors and similies by seeing how he did it.

I learned delicacy from Laurie Colwin.  All her characters are carefully observed.  There is no insufficiency of information but there is nothing unneeded.  Each word is required.  Her people are real people with genuine, sincere emotions.  

When I finally became serious (a condition yet to be accepted by legacy publishing) about writing women's fiction, I had to look long and hard to find someone who resonated with my sensibilities.  I didn't want to hear about body contours or how beastly men are.  I didn't want bitchiness as a stand-in for backbone.  I wanted to see characters behaving like real (decent, nice) people. 
Eventually, by reading a lot of books and a lot of reviews and going to recommendations "People who bought this also bought..." I found Victoria Clayton.  I had to send to England for a couple of her books but it was worth it.  She writes about adults.  Sometimes the characters stumble but they have real lives and are sincere.  It's not fluff.  It's not cotton candy.  You need a dictionary by your side.  I will be forever in her debt for introducing me to the word trull.  She graduated from Cambridge University and it shows.

You won't find these writers using cliches.  The work, the stories, the characters are not derivative.  You haven't seen it or heard it before.

What I learned from Harlequin romances is pretty simple--don't do this.

I wish I could have ended the post there because it was perfect but the women who write Harlequin, Mills Boon and all those sorts of books over the last 50 years believed in the books they wrote.  They're fine stories to distract a reader for 2 hours.  They're needed and appreciated.  Some of them even overcome the genre (but I'm sure it's against the wishes of the publisher).

I will give you the same advice I always give.  Write the best book you can.  At whatever level you're at, stretch.  Think.  Reflect.  Read.  Don't become complacent.

No comments: