With a fresh viewing of Zack Snyder’s film in mind, the overall impression is that it is better than the original. A little bit better, not enough to make any lasting impression. By the time someone does another cut of this film, it will be all new to me again.
My memories of the first cut of Justice League were bits and pieces of fighting and Wonder Woman. She is still the highlight of both films. Her presence prevented the ho-hum stuff between the opening and closing credits from getting to me.
THE GOOD STUFF There’s a lot of good storytelling. We get more character depth than it’s possible to get in a 90-minute film. It’s good to finally see Darkseid in the flesh. As the DC version of Thanos, he has enough menace to be someone I look forward to in the next installment of Justice League. The plot has been rearranged, and it makes a lot more sense now. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are the stand-out characters, as is Alfred the butler.
THE BAD STUFF There’s still not a lot here to get excited about. The overall arc of the film plods along, with no coherent sense of continuity. Pacing is choppy, and the film never really gets momentum to take off. It is a four-hour film, but it could be eight hours, and it still wouldn’t be much better than the original film.
The problems are with the entire DC Universe setup. It tried to outdo Marvel. DC made films that they thought would be exciting and fill theaters, but with no future design. No planning was done to create a coherent whole as Marvel did to perfection. We had no introduction films for Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, or Cyborg before the original film’s release. Contrast that to Marvel, where we had movies for Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America before The Avengers came out.
The second glaring problem with the DC Universe is the horrible lack of character continuity between films. Batman is a cold killing machine in Batman vs. Superman but is a chummy guy with a sense of humor here in Justice League. Wonder Woman has apparently forgotten that she can fly, having learned to do so 30 years before the Justice League‘s setting. I’m not thrilled by The Flash or Cyborg as characters. They’re second-tier characters and not in the same league as Batman. With the fate of the world at stake, are these the best you can come up with? No spoilers, but there are characters in this film who could have lent a hand and just couldn’t be bothered, I guess. And who likes Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor? I’ll say nobody does and leave it there.
THE UGLY STUFF It’s not epic in any way you can define epic. This film never gets near epic in scope. The characters are not engaging and bland, except for Wonder Woman and Aquaman. The conversations have no flavor, no character context. You could take all of the dialogue and give the lines to different characters, and it will still sound the same. Nobody is in a hurry to stop the bad guys. They stand around talking about how bad things can get unless they do something, and sooner or later, they get up and do a little something. And don’t get me started on that epilogue.
RATINGS I gave Joss Whedon’s Justice League a 5 out of 10. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a 6 out of 10. Not enough has been added to make it much better than the 2017 film. Something is still missing from the DC Universe that keeps it from competing with Marvel. For me, it’s the characters. They’ve never been as interesting as those at Marvel. I just don’t care much about them, and that’s fatal for a film franchise.
A character, let’s call him Roger, is accused of committing a murder he didn’t do. Roger goes on the run, dodging the police at every turn. A chance meeting with a mysterious blond leads to a confrontation with a nest of terrorists. All is remedied by the end as we learn that Roger has the information the police need to thwart the terrorists. Roger drives off with his new love, the no-longer-mysterious blond.
That’s all well and good, and you may have a great story on your hands. But what did Roger do yesterday? Last week? One year ago? Can you have a compelling story without knowing your character’s history? Is it necessary to delve into your main character’s life story?
The more you know about your main character, the more we will care about them. While you don’t need to write an entire biography about Roger, it would be helpful if we knew some of the things that will factor into the story. If he has specialized knowledge that will help solve the problem at hand, what does he do that would give him this information? If he is reluctant to get involved with a beautiful woman, has he just been through a divorce and is afraid to commit again? Your character will have assorted problems, accomplishments and other traits that make his life fascinating.
All stories, regardless of length, begin in the middle of the main character’s life. People we drop into our stories have already lived a full life. Your story is the aftermath of the events that occurred prior to the first sentence you write.
Take some time to explore your main character’s life before the beginning of your story. Even something as simple as a paragraph detailing the build up to their predicament you’ll be writing about is valuable.
The power of your story can be enhanced or destroyed by how you present it. This presentation is the Character’s Point of View. There are three major points Of view and a host of others that are not often used. Here’s a quick rundown of these three points of view and three minor ones.
1) First Person: This view uses “I” and “Me” in its narrative form. The character is actually telling the story. We only know what they have seen, and they have to be present in all of the critical scenes in the story.
Example: I didn’t kill Margaret, but the cops were still looking for me.
2) Omniscient Narrator: Here we have the exact opposite of First Person. With this point of view, we see and hear everything, both relevant and extraneous. The choice of what to include is yours. You can be as lengthy as Proust or as sparse as Hemingway.
Example: George knew full well who killed Margaret, but he wouldn’t tell the cops. Mrs. Gray would have known he talked, and she would have had him killed.
3) Limited Third Person: Your story is clean and unobstructed by fancy language. Readers get to steep themselves in the lives of the characters. The writing is natural and transparent, making it easy to read. This method is the most common style of writing for fiction.
Example: George could only watch as Spike and Cuddles entered Margaret’s house. Sitting behind the steering wheel, he got the shock of his life as he heard the shots ring out.
Furthermore, Limited Third Person can be divided into three distinct stages.
A) Limited Third Person, Light Penetration: We can observe only the actions from the viewpoint character when they are present. The narrator is neutral.
Example: George waited patiently in his car for Officer Baransky to show up. The street, devoid of other vehicles, still made George nervous. The rear passenger door opened, and a dark figure slid into the seat. “Evening, George,” said the figure.
B) Limited Third Person, Deep Penetration: We experience things as if seeing them through the character’s eyes. Items are related as the character thinks they are happening. The character’s thoughts become ours.
Example: George was shocked that the voice was that of Ezra, Mrs. Gray’s first assistant.
“What are you doing here, George?” asked Ezra.
George calmed himself before answering. Despite his fear, he found his voice. “Had a fight with Naomi. I had to get some air.”
Ezra stared at him, even though George couldn’t see his eyes. “Hunh. Are you sure it wasn’t to talk to that cop I saw walkin’ this way a minute ago?”
C) Limited Third Person, Cinematic View: In this Point of View, we see things only as the characters see them. It’s like looking through a camera lens. The difference here is that we don’t get inside the character’s head. We only see and hear what they see and hear.
Example: As George waited for the bullet to come through the back seat and into his gut, the door opened. Two hands reached in and pulled the surprised Ezra out of the car. Someone took his place.
“How ya been, George,” said Baransky.
Take your pick of these points of view and have fun with them. Experiment with one you haven’t used before.
From an early age, Tom had an attraction to the fantastic. His love of movies began at an early age when he saw Disney’s 20,0000 Leagues Under the Sea. Captain Nemo opened an entire world for Tom. He was thrilled to discover that it was a book. Nemo is Tom’s favorite fictional character, empathizing with the captain as he wages war on War itself. Tom has written a Star Trek novel in which the Enterprise discovers Nemo and his crew living in a terraformed solar system hidden within a nebula.
In the 4th grade, Tom read Flying Saucers: Serious Business by Frank Edwards. This had an enormous impact on Tom’s world view, for the Universe held infinite wonders. In short order, his research included Bigfoot, UFOs, Cryptozoology and Ancient Astronauts.
Tom has read as many SF, Fantasy and Horror stories as he could get his hands on. Among his favorites are H. P. Lovecraft, H. G. Wells and Richard Matheson. Sherlock Holmes introduced Tom to a series with a continuing character. From there, he found series with Spenser, Parker, Dortmunder, Conan, Gandalf and even Dracula. The possibilities for a series had great impact on Tom’s future writing.
In college, Tom wrote his first serious short story. Night of Fate concerned John Pentgram, an Anomalist who gets bitten by a werewolf. It has become the pivotal story in Pentgram’s life, with dozens of stories taking place both before and after the werewolf attack. This allows Tom to explore two different sides of a complex character.
Tom was introduced to War Games by his best friend, Pete, while in college. The two men have been inseparable since then, with each of them being the Best Man at the other’s wedding. Gaming is their shared obsession. Tom designed his first game in 1977, making a game based on the Death Star trench scene from Star Wars. In 2014, Tom helped design and publish Secrets of the Lost Tomb, a board game filled with details from all the things Tom has loved all his life.
Marriage to Tracy and the birth of their daughter Ariel added more perspective to Tom’s life. At the time of Ariel’s birth, Tom had written about 80% of War of the God Shards, a fantasy epic. He put aside this work for 27 years as he focused on raising his family. Recently, he has begun to revise this work with eyes on completing it finally.
Music also plays an important part in Tom’s life. He is immune to Top 40s radio and has discovered what he likes on his own. This has given him a very diverse musical appreciation. His favorite pieces are: “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin and “We Must Believe in Magic” by Crystal Gayle. His great music love is film music. A love for film music has gone with his love films. Tom has seen over 14,000 films. His favorite film is The Thing from Another World. It has been his favorite since Tom was ten years old.
On a more personal side, Tom and Ariel are avid bowlers. Their goal is to one day crack the 250-game barrier. Tom and his family live with three cats. Two of them are Rag Doll/Maine Coon mixed brothers named Thor and Loki. Their third cat is a polydactyl female named Gypsy.
Have you ever wanted to be praised for something you’ve done?
Have you ever felt horrible after a submitted story was rejected?
Have you ever been disturbed about what someone has said about you?
Have you ever gotten upset when someone cut you off in traffic?
Have you ever felt guilty about something you did or said?
If you have, then you have been a victim of your Ego. Your Ego is the source of most of life’s troubles. Life is problematic enough without having to be concerned or worried about what may happen or what has happened. Neither one of these things are in your best interest.
Let me explain. The Past has already occurred, so it’s beyond your ability to change. The Future is a nebulous miasma of possibilities that is also difficult to change. Only your choices can affect the Future, and you don’t have any idea what those choices should be. All you can do is make a choice and hope that it’s the best one for the situation at hand.
Enter the Ego. It can be short for Everything Goes Overboard. The Ego never lets you forget what you’ve done in the Past. It also makes you second guess your options for the Future.
As for writing, the Ego really goes to town here. When you have a story rejected, you feel bad. Some people take it poorly, getting mad at the publisher and everyone else around them. Writers crave good news about their stories, whether it’s from a publisher or their Mom.
These reactions are all tied to the Ego. The Ego is not your friend. While it tries to look out for you, it also does a horrible job with your feelings. Feelings are directly tied to the Ego. If you’ve ever felt hurt by what someone says about you, blame the Ego. I’ve got news for you. What someone thinks about you is none of your business. It’s just their opinion. It has no more weight than your shoe size, and yet an insult or a story rejection can ruin our week.
The good news? You are not your Ego, no matter how much the Ego thinks it is. The Ego is not a part of your Being. It is separate from your sacred self and interested only in defending itself. Ego helps protect us and preserve circumstances that are favorable for us. Without it, our physical form could be in danger. It can, all the same, be harmful when it takes over other aspects of our lives like our happiness. Keeping up with the Joneses is a perfect example of this.
To quote Dr. Wayne Dyer: The Ego-idea has been with us ever since we began to think. It sends us false messages about our true nature. It leads us to make assumptions about what will make us happy and we end up frustrated. It pushes us to promote our self-importance while we yearn for a deeper and richer life experience. It causes us to fall into the void of self-absorption, again and again, not knowing that we need only shed the false idea of who we are.
How would switching off your Ego improve your writing? For one thing, you wouldn’t feel so much sting out of every rejection. In fact, the very act of not being hurt by rejections over time is an indication that you’ve put your Ego aside for this one process. Eventually, you will not let your Ego self-edit you as you write. That kills a lot of stories in mid-creation.
Just write like spelling and grammar and logic don’t exist. You can clean up the mess later. Right now, just write the story that comes into your head. Let your Ego look at it, but ignore whatever it says to you. This is your story, not your Ego’s. Ego didn’t write it, so it has no right to criticize it.
There is a disturbing, at least to me, the trend over the last decade or so that says that a Hero or Main Character has to have a flaw or they won’t be interesting. What a bunch of balderdash. There are plenty of characters that people love that don’t have a fault that sticks out like a third arm. These people are just ordinary folks, living their lives until something comes along and destroys that idyllic time.
Every day heroes
A crisis in the lives of our hero. That’s what is most important in a story. There is an old formula for writing a story that still holds true even today:
The hero is walking down the street.
Someone chases the hero up a tree.
Someone else comes along and throws rocks at the hero in the tree.
The hero figures out a way to get out of the tree and stop the rock thrower.
That’s not the exact recipe for an ideal story, but you get the point. There’s nothing in there about guilt or alcoholism or impotence. It’s just that simple. Yes, you can add in that he’s having trouble with gambling, but that’s not his main concern. Nor should it be the main concern for the reader, unless it’s a story about a gambler who gets in over his head due to his addiction to dice and chips.
When we pick up a book, most of us don’t look in the back to find the list of what’s wrong with our hero. That would be stupid. We also might not read a book just because that person has a weakness that makes them make bad decisions. There are fans of this kind of story, but I’m not in that category. Give me someone who has a good life, good job, family, and friends. Then have them get taken hostage during a bank robbery or involved in a domestic terror attack on his kids’ school.
Anyone can be a hero
Can you see how it’s the outside events that are more likely to draw us into a person’s life and not the inner demons? Those inner demons can come to the surface when the Hero’s life becomes a living Hell. A perfect example is Die Hard. (Funny how this film keeps popping up in my posts, but I digress.)
John McClane is an ordinary guy as his plane lands in LAX. Sure, his relationship with his wife is strained, but that’s how life can be. He’s in Los Angeles to get his marriage back on track. His inner demon is his need to have his wife live in the same city as he does. He can’t wrap his head around the fact that she is becoming a very successful person in her own right. It takes away from his masculinity.
Sure enough, John and Holly have a fight and he retires to her private bathroom to bad talk himself. He can’t seem to keep his caveman brain from smashing his attempts to see things from her viewpoint. Holly, on the other hand, is too wrapped up in her work to be anything more than angry at John.
But then the sharks arrive in the form of Hans Gruber and his gang of thieves. For half the night, John is a bit distracted by these bad guys. But all the while, he is thinking of how stupid and pig-headed he has been lately. He becomes very motivated to save Holly and her co-workers and to make sure that they never fight again. We all know that he gets the job done.
John McClane uses the outside influence of the Nakatomi Building getting robbed as a way to solve his marriage problems. Quite an extreme example, I know, but it’s a good one to show how the Hero does not have to have his inner flaws out in front in order for us to enjoy the time we spend with him. His scuffle with his wife is minor at first, and that’s where it should always start. When John realizes that he’s fighting for Holly’s approval (in his mind) that he finds the inner courage and fortitude to overcome a problem he might not have been able to handle without that inner fire.
I have been writing off and on about an Anomalist named John Pentgram since 1978. He has changed a lot over the years. At first, he seemed to be a Scottish knock-off of Sherlock Holmes in modern times. He even had his own Dr. Watson, in the form of Amos McConnell.
In 2016, I decided to move his home and entire history to South Central New Jersey. This involved a complete re-write of every story and novel, plus the backgrounds of every major character. This would be a major challenge, and I jumped at the chance to create a more real and accurate world for John Pentgram. He still solved mysteries beyond the Borderland, but now he’s closer to where I live.
What’s Out There In The Dark?
I put Pentgram on the shelf for a few years, as I concentrated on other works. I hadn’t written a new story for him in years. Then, on a drive to Florida, a new story hit out of the blue. On the first page of One Room Unfurnished, John’s Mother and vineyard are mentioned. John in turn asks Amos about his girlfriend Allyson Haywood.
The Pentgram Vineyard
Wait, what? A Mother? A vineyard? A girlfriend? It turned out that the Pentgram Family owns a large vineyard at the northern edge of the Pine Barrens. John’s mother, Hayley is the owner and CEO of the Pentgram Vineyard. The girlfriend’s name is Allyson Haywood, daughter of John’s mentor and good friend Nicholas Haywood. All of these ideas hit me as they hit the page. They all made sense, but the biggest revelation came later.
A later story, The Dead Refuse To Lie Down, introduced us to Allyson in the flesh. At one point, John asks her if she were a licensed witch. She said no, not yet.
Witchcraft: A Real Profession
Whoa! A witch? A licensed witch? Here is where John Pentgram’s world veered from ours in a big way. In the America of John Pentgram, witches were not killed in Salem Village in 1692. by that year, they had become an important part of American culture and defense.
From the moment the first colonists landed in North America, the forces of Darkness attacked them. Hordes of Trolls, Goblins, Wild Men, Elves, Kobolds, and other paranormal beings assaulted these first citizens, from Plymouth to St. Augustine, Florida.
The witches, living in every colony, fled Europe where they were being slaughtered for mere existence. Here, with their new country under assault, they stepped forward. The Colonies survived only by the quick and skillful enchantments of the Witches of America.
At first, the Church resisted these actions, urging the citizens to step forward to kill each and every witch on the grounds that they practiced Magic. An uproar by those same citizens convinced the colonial governors to place all witches under the protection of the colonial governments. As long as they did not practice Dark Magic, they would be protected from any harm.
The true test of the American Witches came in 1692 at Salem Village, Massachusetts. Nineteen witches engaged in battle with Derylth, the King of the Elves, and his Para-Human minions. By the time the horde had been defeated, the witches had become heroes of the American People.
Songs, books and plays by the hundred were written and performed in the century after the Salem Witch Travails. The National Witchcraft Headquarters is located at Salem Village. All witches are required to become licensed by age 18. They are a part of the FBI’s Domestic Service. Article VI, Section 6 of the U. S. Constitution specifically details the licensing and protection of any natural-born witches, and that of any immigrants who have gone through the Citizenship process.
National Witchcraft Headquarters
In The Dead Refuse To Lie Down, I threw out a line about Allyson Haywood having her license. That one line created a firestorm of ideas in my mind.
I immediately knew that Pentgram had several friends who are witches, and a half dozen acquaintances. Several of them turn up in The Deadly Mile, which means I have to go back and re-write that one to add in the new histories.
The Pentgram Vineyard employs three witches, one each to protect the property, the personnel, and the products. Witchcraft in the Pentgram family goes back many generations. In fact, one of the witches in Macbeth is a Pentgram.
One small change in one story can cause ripples and seismic shifts in an entire Story Universe. I’m still debating with Hayley Pentgram, John’s Mother, as to whether or not she’s a witch. We’ll just have to see how her story unfolds in the future.
“One Room Unfurnished” will soon be published in the Corporate GothicAnthology from JWC Books coming in Spring 2021.
The views expressed herein do not reflect the opinions of Joe’s Writers Club and its members. They are the views of the writer, but I’m sure that JWC would agree with me. Wink, wink.
“Comedy. It’s A Difficult Concept” – Lt. Saavik, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
What makes you laugh? Whether it’s the verbal genius of Groucho Marx, Bill Cosby or, to a far lesser degree, the work of Adam Sandler or Bill Hicks, comedy based upon words needs little else but the comedian to work. On the flip side, just one look at Buster Keaton, the master of physical comedy, will have you chuckling until your sides hurt. You could also do pretty well with Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.
Laurel and Hardy
Comedy comes in two forms. Each can be distinct and separate, or they can mesh together and a myriad of ways that suits any taste. I’ll not go into every permutation of comedy here. There’s an entire library of books written about this fine art. I’ll touch on a few of the more important ones. It’s not exhaustive by any means.
Time for Definitions!
Screwball Comedy. Take a straight-laced ordinary Man. (It’s always a Man, otherwise the Comedy won’t work.) give him an unremarkable, uneventful, unexciting life. Throw in a wacky dame. (It’s always a dame. A lady would never act like this.) Throw both of them into an insane cascade of calamitous situations. (Never, ever dull situations.) Shake well. Now you have the basic recipe for a Screwball Comedy.
Take it further. The man has two distinct choices. He can run away from the dame, and perhaps have some return to normalcy. Or he can surrender and accept the wild ride that will destroy his life. Believe me, he never runs away. Or rather, he never gets far enough away. Something always comes along and pulls him back into the whirlwind, almost always it’s the woman.
The 1930s was the heyday for the Screwball Comedy, although they are still made on rare occasions, such as Game Night from 2018. Some of the Classics of the genre are: Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, His Girl Friday, What’s Up Doc? and the I Love Lucy show. More recently, there is Rat Race, Weekend At Bernie’s, and The In-Laws.
Let’s look at Bringing Up Baby from RKO in 1938. Cary Grant plays David, a paleontologist on the eve of his wedding. He has just received the last bone to complete his Brontosaurus skeleton. While playing golf with would-be million-dollar donor Mr. Peabody, he meets Susan. Susan falls in love with him instantly, but he thinks she’s crazy.
Bringing Up Baby. 1938 RKO Pictures
Of course, David misses his golf outing and then misses a dinner engagement as Susan keeps distracting him by hitting his car with hers or tearing his tuxedo jacket. Meanwhile, Susan’s brother sends her a leopard named Baby. She cons David into driving her and baby to her home in Connecticut where Baby can live safely. David brings his dinosaur bone with him for safekeeping. A nasty leopard escapes from a nearby circus and finds its way to the area where Susan lives.
Mr. Peabody is Susan’s next-door neighbor, and David tries to wake him up. Susan hits Peabody with a rock. Susan’s dog buries the dinosaur bone somewhere on the 40-acre property Susan’s aunt owns. Susan’s aunt has also pledged a million dollars to David’s museum, and David can’t tell her who he is because she thinks he’s a fool and a maniac.
All of these elements smash together in a wildly funny comedy set at a breakneck pace. Director Howard Hawks, the Master of the Screwball Comedy takes all of these insane aspects and crafts one of the funniest films ever made. The dialogue comes at you so fast that you have to really pay attention or you’ll get lost.
Black Comedy. Here we have something completely different. A Black Comedy pokes fun at something not considered to be funny, like funerals, murder, and nuclear war. Let’s look at one of the best Black Comedies ever made: Arsenic and Old Lace.
In Arsenic and Old Lace, we find Mortimer bringing his new bride Elaine home to Brooklyn on Halloween. There, he surprises his two aunts, Martha and Abby, with the news of his marriage. However, the revelry is Shattered when Mortimer discovers that his aunts have murdered a dozen lonely old men and buried them in the basement. Mortimer’s brother Teddy does the actual burying, believing that each body is actually a Yellow Fever victim from his digging the Panama Canal. Teddy believes he is Theodore Roosevelt.
Arsenic And Old Lace. 1944 Warner Bros.
While Mortimer is panicking over the dozen dead men, he has to keep Elaine from finding out anything. Just then, Mortimer’s other brother Johnathan arrives, with his plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein in tow. They have brought Mr. Spinalzo with them. Spinalzo is dead, the 12thperson that Johnathan has murdered. Johnathan needs a place for Spinalzo’s body, and decides to bury him in his aunt’s basement.
When Johnathan discovers the other bodies in the basement, he is very confused. He can’t believe that his two innocent aunts could ever do such a thing. Mortimer, on the other hand, is shocked to discover Mr. Spinalzo in the window box. He accuses his aunts of killing another person, but Martha says he’s a Stranger to her. Johnathan tells Mortimer that the body is his, and that he’s going to bury him in the basement. The aunts flip out and insist that Spinalzo is not allowed in the graveyard.
From this point on, the film becomes a swirling mass of craziness. Johnathan wants to kill Mortimer Mortimer just wants Johnathan, Einstein and Spinalzo to leave. Elaine becomes curious about Johnathan and the basement. A policeman keeps stopping by on his rounds, oblivious to the house filled with bodies and murderers. Throw in a visit from the head of an insane asylum, checking to see who’s really crazy in the house, and you have a comedy of the highest order.
There are times when Black Comedy nudges up against Screwball Comedy. Often it turns into parody. A good example is Airplane!, but that’s not important right now. What is important is the idea that comedy comes in many different forms. Among the most challenging is Verbal Comedy. When sound erupted into films in 1927, comedy found a home.
Perhaps the finest of the Verbal Comedies belong to the Marx Brothers. Their antics are the only form of Marxism I could ever follow.
As I write this, I’m wearing my Marx Brothers tie. Their first five films have no equal in film history as far as comedy is concerned. You can start with Duck Soup, perhaps the finest political parody ever made.
As writers, it is advisable to read as many humorous authors that you can find. The more absurd the better. You can get your fill with Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiassen and Dave Barry. Not by coincidence, they all live in Florida. Florida has a special maniacal wackiness that makes it a unique place. These guys, and about a dozen other Floridians, make humor seem effortless. Maybe it’s just what Florida does to people. Whatever the reason, writing Humor can be a true challenge to one’s skills as a writer.
I’ll leave you with the last words of comic actor Cecil Kellaway. “Dying is Easy. Comedy is Hard.”
We are all comfortable reading the books we love. They’re like old friends, always there, always reliable. It matters not what you read, they are something you can hold onto and know that they will always be the same. They rarely leave the confines of their genre. That makes them something to look forward to.
As a writer, it is good to read in your genre to have a good feel for what you’re writing about. It would be difficult to write a fantasy novel if you didn’t know the difference between a Troll and a Paladin. But what is there to do if your writing begins to get stale, like everything else you’ve read before? That is the danger you face if you only read what you are interested in.
A good writer absorbs words and ideas that they encounter and read. That being said, if you only read one type of fiction, the kind you are writing, then you may only be versed well in that genre. It only makes sense. But there is another way to enhance your writing.
So much reading to do!
Your writing, and your reading scope, will increase if you take it upon yourself to read in other genres. Take some chances and pick something you’d never thought you’d read. There are a lot of great books in every genre, and a lot of them are free to read or listen to online.
A word about audiobooks: there have been many tests that show that anything heard is taken in and filed away in the mind. The same studies prove that if you listen to an audio story at fifty to one hundred percent faster than normal speed, you will recall it better. I myself listen to at least one audiobook a week as I write my new stories. I can tell you the stories in fine detail many months later.
Using the speed audio method, I have been able to sample some excellent books that I might never have taken the time to read. Here are a few genres I have read, some for the first time.
I am a big Western movie fan. The Old West ended about 125 years ago, yet it still lives in films and books. Everyone knows of the Old West, and yet it isn’t as popular as it had been 40 years ago and more. It’s a shame because the genre is rich with imagery and characters who will stay with you for a long time.
The Seventh Man by Max Brand
At random, I chose The Seventh Man by Max Brand. The story concerned Dan Barry, a man of great strength and pride. He takes on the seven men who have killed his prize horse, determined to kill each and every one of them on a crusade of vengeance. The authentic language of the cowboy, the outlaw, the gambler, and the lawman are here in fine form. Brand is one of the great Masters of the Western yarn, in the same company as Zane Grey.
I found the story to be well written and intriguing. It immersed me in the dusty trails and dense forests. The characters are people who could not be in any other fiction genre, so much a part of the world that they would not be able to survive anywhere else.
Hard Boiled Detective
Along with the Western, the Detective genre is another great American invention. Sure, others have created their own detectives, but the originals were created here in the U. S. A. it was Edgar Allan Poe who started things off. After that, there has been an explosion of detectives across every genre. I chose a few interesting novels by authors I know were among the best in their field.
Cop Hater by Ed McBain
The first story I dove into is Cop Hater by Ed McBain. What a powerful voice. The writing is crisp, clean and the dialogue real. Published in 1954, the language is raw, and often vulgar. The criminals are slimy and the cops have real lives. They all have fears, prejudices, and pride. A very good book. I’ll be reading more of the 87th Precinct in the future.
I then read The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald. It’s the book that introduces us to Lew Archer, down and out detective in the grimy and corrupt hell that is Los Angeles in the 1940’s. Little has changed about L.A. In the past 75 years, but that doesn’t matter. This is a classic detective novel, made unique by its laconic and indifferent narrator. Archer doesn’t care who is guilty or why anyone has done what they’ve done. He seeks the truth and will not stop until he’s dug up the roaches responsible. A good start to a character with two dozen novels to his resume.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. This book has been recommended by so many people over the years that I decided to read it. I actually read it and listened to it at the same time. I’m glad I did, because seeing and hearing Frankl’s words made them hit me much more.
Man’ Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl
The main part of the text concerns Frankl’s experiences in Dachau, the notorious Nazi Prison Camp. How anyone could survive under such circumstances is a testament to the tenacity of the Human species. Frankl studied the various types of prisoners in the camp, noting how different people reacted to their situation in very different ways. Some could not live under the harsh conditions. Many died trying to live to their next meal. A very few let the entire experience pass through them. They kept on, knowing that they would live to get out and return to their lives after the war. Frankl is one of these people. He committed himself to living and not giving up. Only those who knew they would survive actually did survive.
This is one of the most devastating books I’ve ever read. The horrors Frankl lived through are not anything anyone should ever do again. I would highly recommend this to get an uplifting view of the Human Condition and what people will do to their fellow Man.
In closing, I would recommend reading books in different genres for several reasons. First, it helps expand your reading horizons. Second, it will help your writing to see how other types of stories portray incidents you may run into with your characters. Third, the writer’s voice is always different in other genres. A cowboy talks far differently than a serial killer in Chicago. But that same cowboy would probably look and sound a lot like an asteroid miner in the year 2077. Both are on the frontier of their era. But you wouldn’t have known that if you hadn’t read either the Western or the SF novel. Reading one will certainly help you create the other in a more believable way.
Note: This post contains various affiliate links to the books referenced and as such, the author makes a small percentage of sales. This content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships.
We all have days when we don’t feel like writing. Things get in the way. The kids need something, and they always need something. Your mom calls and asks you to help her with something she saw crawl out from under the sink. Or you might not be in the mood.
Writing as Therapy
Do yourself and all of us readers a favor. Write. Write even though every fiber of your being screams that you don’t have the time, or that what you’ll write will be crap. It’s okay. Write the crap and get it out of your system. Who knows? Some of that crap could lead to something interesting.
There’s a concept called “free writing.” Free writing is where you sit in a quiet space with a pad and a pen. For ten minutes up to thirty minutes, write down whatever comes into your mind. The key is to get the pen moving even if you write about not having anything to write about. You will soon be writing something. Free writing is used a lot by psychic mediums to pick up a presence in a place where there is a haunting, but it’s also beneficial to free your mind from the clutter.
Let the Ideas Flow
Stuck somewhere that is not usually a proper place to write? Write in this place whether you’re waiting for someone to finish their shopping or at the hospital’s emergency room. Pull out your journal and write something. It’s good therapy that can clear your mind and also take your mind off of worrying needlessly. Writing is good for the soul, and your thoughts never have to leave the journal.
Let your finished draft rest for two or three months. I know that’s hard, but absence makes the novel grow better. If you now look at your work as a reader, you’ll see what works better for the story. While you’re waiting, play with the story in a separate place. Where are the characters now? What were they doing before you set pen to paper? Are there other adventures waiting for your people now that you’ve gotten them to your story’s end? Think about it. What harm could it do to combine writing therapy with character and event exploration?
Are you stuck on where to take your current story? Take the opportunity to write out possible ideas for your characters and their predicaments. Even if your ideas make no sense or don’t fit with the story you’re writing, that’s okay. Write it out. You may find another story waiting for you in your rambling thoughts.