Write What You Read?
I'm in the process of reading Robert's Rules of Writing by Robert Masello. Here's the link for Amazon (as of time of this posting it is also being offered as a free download on Kindle):
So far I'm enjoying Mr. Masello's sense of humor and his approach to this book that contains some content that is not your everyday advice on writing.
In particular, I'm intrigued by Rule #16: Write What You Read.
The author asks what kind of book(s) are laying on your bedside table or your reading stack and that chances are--you ought to be writing those books since that is what you are most interested in.
As with all else in life, I find this to be not nearly so simple a thing as it sounds. Anybody who has read this blog for any length of time knows I struggle to find my writing niche in this world. Ideally, I want to write historicals that are non-romance in nature.
But you won't find any books like that on my bedside table because they hardly ever get published. I can't read what's not available.
But what you will typically find on my bedside table are thrillers of the spy and military sort. That's about the only genre you can go to and depend on not being clobbered over the head with a romance element.
But there's more to my interest in those thrillers than just the fact that it's my only go-to place for non-romance. By their very nature, thrillers in the spy/military categories automatically look at a much broader picture--they are concerned with what's happening in the world at large or at least a region of it. These books look at ideals, principles, customs--all from the standpoint of how they collide and shape the world around us. Our world is one of conflict both great and small, and it is endlessly fascinating.
It is that kind of broad view I seek but rarely find in historicals. Most of the time, historical time periods are used merely as a backdrop to insert Jack and Jill so they can make their journey toward each other after a predictable misunderstanding.
Why do the bulk of writers not push for this broad view in their historicals? Yes, someone is bound to point out that even with a broad view, a story must focus on a couple key characters.
I agree. But I find that inherently, people choose to go the romantic route, which is fine, but it has been my experience that when authors latch onto a romance thread in a historical, they forsake the interesting potential of the story to give us another typical romance. Why is it so hard for authors to explore beyond these standard bounds? Why is it so hard to explore the greater world around them? Matters of the heart are not the exclusive territory of romantic relationships. There are other forms of passion--justice, patriotism, loyalty. And to me, those are far more powerful motivators.
But that brings me to the next question for myself--so then, why don't I write spy/military thrillers, since that's what's usually on my table? I will have to give it some further thought, but I'd say it comes down to two reasons: 1) right or wrong, I view the lens of the past more simply than I do the present and 2) no reasonable means of obtaining the research. And these two items, at least in my mind, are bound together.
We live in a very complicated world. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time staying on top of the news, both nationally and internationally. We are bombarded with news and you have to be able to sort and sift it. To write spy/military thrillers, being on top of the current world climate is a must. But at this present time in my life, given time constraints due to my job and other factors, I must simply acknowledge that this is beyond my realm right now--either staying on top of the news or finding the tricky sources needed to write these books.
But with historicals, I already have several years research invested, and while it is no easy deal obtaining the research required, in some ways, it is easier than obtaining government classified secrets for a thriller. 8-)
But who knows. Maybe one day the circumstances of my life will change and allow me to go after that contemporary thriller that I love to read. In the meantime, I can explore the trials of our past and see what I can bring to light in terms of where we come from--and maybe shed some light onto where we're going.