Thursday, April 8, 2010

G is for Genre Hopping

One of the best ways to learn how to write is to read...a lot. This something I've been told over and over again, both by writing teachers and other writers. I'm in luck on this one. "G" is for Genre Hopping and I love to read all genres; the hard-boiled detective drama, historical romance, weepy chick-lit. I like to read books multiple times and take them apart, figuratively, to find out why I like them so much. Is it the pacing? Are the characters memorable, if so, why? What compels me to keep reading? I underline and dog-ear my books like they are my college texts.

One of my favorite Genres is cop dramas. I got hooked one day on a flight to a funeral. My dad had one and I read it, despite the fact that it was not what I usually read, and loved it. The one I read in particular had these incredible frenetic chase scenes. They were like running with the cops while looking through a video recorder. The author gave tight shots of people through quick, fragmented descriptions of their actions during the chase.

The rest of the sentences in the scene were long, not quick and staccato like I’d thought. I decided that I had to try to learn from this guy…so I practiced in my own writing, the technique he used. It was awkward and forced at first, but eventually, I put my own twist on it.

Hemingway is great to study for dialogue. He uses gestures to punctuate the words and it’s powerful. Hemingway often contrasts mundane tasks, like nail hygiene, with menacing dialogue. To see the everyday human behavior on a killer makes what they are saying that much more threatening. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, try reading his book, The Killers, it’s amazing.

If you’re interested, The Poetry Resource Page has a great writing exercise on creating a character with gestures alone. And if you're into blogfests, there is a Body Language Blogfest going on at the Labotomy of a Writer Blog on April 24th.

My challenge to you today is to read books you felt were most potent, most riveting, to you as a reader and find out why. I’ll bet you’ll learn some great new techniques without the fee and travel of a writing class. What can you learn from your favorite writer?  Is it pacing, do they have great character quirks, or is it something less definable?  I'd love to know what you found out.

Until next time, Go Write!

Photograph by Hamed Saber, Uploaded on August 24, 2006. Photograph by austinevan, Uploaded on August 24, 2007.

11 comments:

Rae said...

That is a true weakness of mine. I don't read as much as I used to. I suppose that is a down-side of blogging and keeping up with others blogs. No free time to indulge in the wonder of good books. Thanks for the writing tips! Great post!

WELCOME TO MY WORLD OF POETRY: said...

Most interesting post, like Rae I don't read as often as I should
but I do get to read my self help books should the need arise,
Yes also thanks for the tips, most appreciated.

Yvonne

Niki said...

What a great post. I love reading and it has helped my writing a lot.

Kierah Jane Reilly said...

I've heard this before, but I have such a hard time reading genres I'm not interested in. But you've inspired me. What was the name of the cop story you read?

Raquel Byrnes said...

It was called Winter Prey by John Sandford. Its gritty, so beware, but his scenes are riveting.

Lisa said...

Very informative post! Through this challenge, I've learned so much and this post is no exception. I'm going to do some research on Hemingway, now. I'm not a writer, but love learning and you make it all sound so enticing. :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Definitely, reading is super important. That genre-hopping technique works for me too. I'll have historical fiction on tap for the letter H tomorrow (because I'm rereading -- or trying to reread -- The Scarlet Letter). Stop by tomorrow to see the other titles I mention.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Great post! I ADORE body language. I use it so much in my writing. I really want my reader to get inside my characters' heads which being told what in there. Would love to see an example of yours using body language to portray character. Would you post one?

Lia Keyes said...

Love your blog design, Raquel! Very fun. And this post about reading, well, you know from my own post on the same subject that I heartily agree!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Well I did sign up for the Body Language Blogfest on the 24th, so if I do come up with a gestures entry, I'll post it there.

Juan Velez said...

Your first sentense said it all for me: "One of the best ways to learn how to write is to read...a lot."

I am trying to do that too.. I can write a research paper but I can hardly write any personal reflection paper...