Saturday, September 23, 2006

You Can Learn from Books

The subject line above is a quote, something Ringo said in A Hard Day's Night. I don't have a lot to say tonight, but what little I did want to mention fits under that general heading.

I've mostly been reading all night, finishing up Many Waters, the third book (from the characters' point of view) in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet. I don't remember whether I started rereading it late Wednesday night or sometime Thursday, but I do know that it kept me up Thursday night until nearly 3 AM, and even longer tonight. Many Waters wasn't published until 1986, the same year we moved to Tucson. The other three books are older, and are therefore more familiar to me from many readings than this one is.

But I'm supposed to be a bit of an authority on the subject of Madeleine L'Engle's work, and it's been close to a decade since I last read through a significant chunk of her writing. Mostly I look stuff up, hunting through certain books to settle one question or another. For example: is the first name of character Dennys Murry really Dionysus? Some people seem to think so, but I haven't found a reference yet, either way. His twin, Sandy, is revealed to be an Alexander, one of three members of the extended Murry-O'Keefe family with that first name. But Dennys didn't say his name was short for anything else. That doesn't prove the negative, though, so I'll have to reread the later books he's in also. When I'm done making my way through the series, I'll be better prepared for working on the related Wikipedia articles, and for answering the questions I get because of my L'Engle web site.

Meanwhile, I was supposed to get some fiction writing of my own done this week, and I'm happy to say that I did get a little bit of that in. I printed out the page with the two paragraph intro to the mostly missing scene, and on Thursday and Friday at lunch I wrote part of the next bit. In trying to solve the problem of how Darsuma tries to find out what's wrong, I ended up having Darsuma try to solve the problem of how to solve the problem. Basically she's taking notes for me. This is not at all what I had in mind originally - I wanted her to do something flashy and impressive - but it makes perfect sense. And if the scene doesn't work out, I can always cut it entirely.

Last weekend I finally wrote the email in The Jace Letters that reveals what the heck has been going on all this time. In a way it seems as though the serial could and should end right there, but I don't think I'm going to do that. The longer it continues from that point, the hard it will be to do well, and the more the tension in the story is likely to dissipate. But I kind of like the challenge of finding a graceful way to end the story, without breaking a structure that isn't really suited for what happens next.

Now here's the slender point on which I mean to hang these words. As this blog has "gleaned my teeming brain," I find more and more that I can't continue indefinitely without fresh input in the form of words, preferably words on paper. There may be no universal rules to writing beyond the fact that one must actually write to be a writer; but one bit of advice that crops up frequently is that one must be a reader as well. In recent years I've devoured each new Harry Potter or Pern book as it came out, but beyond that I haven't read nearly enough fiction so far this century. I need to do something about that, to replenish my formerly teeming brain. If I read my L'Engle books and analyze them for Wikipedia, I should learn more along the way about what she does well in her books, and how she does it, and what works less well, and what applies to my own writing, and what doesn't. I've noticed, for example, that A Wrinkle in Time ends each chapter with a crisis, just as the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books used to do. I have a tendency to use this same, rather old fashioned technique, but I hope it's a little less obvious than in Wrinkle.

And of course, the other books I must learn from are my own. I learn writing best by writing, but lately most of my writing has been non-fiction. That may help with things like sentence structure, but it doesn't do a thing for my plotting and description skills. To improve in those areas, I have to just write the stuff. And to write the stuff, I need to see it down well by other writers.

Funny how that works. I just happen to have a few thousand books here, maybe a third of them fiction. I'll never get to them all. But I can peek at a few - and then write something almost entirely unlike them.


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Becky said...

For a couple years after Tyler was born, I was suffering from a thing called "Mommy Brain". It's a waking vegetative state caused by lack of sleep, too much time away from adult interaction, and too many repetitive tasks. I was starting to feel so dull. Then I made time for reading. Then I started my blog. Suddenly, my brain was back from the dead. Reading a variety of books (and not just People magazine, as I had been doing) jump started my creative juices. Reading IS fundamental.

Carly said...

Yes um...writing keeps the flow, but the river needs water or it will dry up. LOL. Reading helps me in all kinds of ways in life, especially when it comes to writing my blog, and strangely enough, with this book I am attempting. :) Cool entry.