Broadening Your Scope
When it comes to these posts there are two things you can count on. One… Kelly probably came up with the idea. Kelly tends to have a lot more to say about most things than I do and—
Kelly: What’s that supposed to mean?
Nothing. Nothing bad, anyway. I just tend not to notice things.
Kelly: Un hunh. You’re positively blind. Like when you’re elbowing me to look at the shirtless guys working on the beach house next to our rental. Or when somebody seems a little “off” in a picture on twitter and you’re convinced I have to start texting this said somebody to find out what’s wrong. Or when you’re trying to explain how you “research” on Google. What was that thing about webs of information again?
My point being, people surprise me and Kelly tends to bring the “people things” into our conversation that I might not otherwise catch on to. The nitty-gritty people things, even: emotions, conceptions, ideals.
The second thing about these posts that you can count in is that I will, without fail, totally misinterpret the concept at first. It tends to go something like this:
So, what are we doing this month’s post on?
Kelly: Broadening your scope.
Me (glaring): There is nothing wrong with the width of my “scope”.
Kelly: The “your” is generic, Henley.
Me (still glaring): There is nothing wrong with the width of my anything, for that matter.
Kelly: Yes, yes, Henley. Much width. Very massive. Have a cookie. And put my hat back where you found it, pink isn’t your color. (Kelly is misinformed on this. The lighting was poor. Pink is totally my color.)
It’s at that point in the conversation where I actually find out what in the heck Kelly means. In this case, it’s the idea that there are too many ways in this world to limit one’s perspective and limiting one’s perspective, especially in this crazy craft of writing, is often far more detrimental than it is useful. For example, there is a huge difference between the statement, “I am writing and therefore I do not have time to read tonight,” and “I am writing and therefore I cannot ever read anything within this genre because it will ruin my work.” That’s right… apparently there are some writers who don’t/won’t/say they can’t read.
My only answer to that is a confused, “Hunh?”
So, most people know that I love Stephen King (at least, those who know me well do). He has a whole hell of a lot to say about writing and I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy of his guide, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I’d like to share a few of his quotes with you because I strongly believe that (a) he is a genius; and (b) I can use some of these to explain what I’m trying to say about broadening your scope and including reading (viewing, listening, whatever) as a way to grow your own skills.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
There is a reason that parents are told to sit down with their kids and read to/with them. We learn by reading – how to write, what to write, what we like about writing and what we don’t like about it. We absorb grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style. We learn what other people like and we learn to make judgements on those preferences.
“Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.” – Stephen King
Why wouldn’t you want to know what’s happening within the genre that you’re investing your time and energy in? The things that are failing, the things that are doing well, these are lessons that right out there in the open and they’re free for the taking (but for the the cost of the novels themselves because, please, oh please, do buy what you read; at the very least ask your library to stock them and they will buy them for you). There’s no reasonable explanation why a person might not want to grab them and run with them. Except… well… apparently…
It’s a poisonous word, I agree. But I find it hard to believe that reading somebody else’s work would mean that you’re going to start stealing their style. To be honest, I find it hard to believe that a person could. Sure, you might pick up a phrase or an idea, but a writer’s style is their own personal style. You could no more “steal” it than you could steal their eye color by staring at their eyes. Even if you love what you’re looking at it, you were born with your own eyes and they were born with their own eyes and that’s just the way the cards got dealt.
Kelly: Unless, of course, you know someone with access to some really good surgical skills and a lack of ethics when it comes to poking out somebody’s eyes.
You have a point.
However, my point is that you’ve crafted a style that is yours and yours alone. If you’re reading something and enjoying it, and you see similarities between what their work and yours, there’s a good chance that you’re picking that up because what they do is similar to what you do. That’s it. But it’s not what you do and you’re certainly not stealing it. You can’t steal something you already own.
Don’t be worried if you walk away from a movie or a novel or a TV show or a conversation that you heard on the bus with an idea for a story…
“You see something, then it clicks with something else, and it will make a story. But you never know when it’s going to happen.” – Stephen King
If it’s your story, if it’s fresh and new and it’s being seen through your eyes alone, it will be its own story. I promise you that. Peter Pan has been told a half a dozen times and every one of those stories is different. The character isn’t even the same in one to the next. It’s okay if you want your story to be the seventh version of that. There isn’t a story left out there that hasn’t already been done. You can wake up tomorrow with a brand new idea that seems so amazingly fresh and exciting that you’re convinced it will be the next best thing, and by noon find two novels that are the exact same concept. Does that mean you shouldn’t read them? Hell, no! Read them! Find out what you love about the idea and find out what you despised. Make yours better! And if you’re worried that you might end up with a big old case of plagiarism, I can tell you the one sure and solid way to ensure you won’t. It’s simple: just don’t plagiarize.
That doesn’t mean you can’t tell your story, though.
But what about (I hear you thinking it, I’m sure of it)…
Learning how to better yourself by using the tools that are available to you is never a distraction. It is smart and it is viable and it’s a heck of a lot more enjoyable (and more easily retained) than doing book lessons.
Kelly: So what you’re saying is that I can put away this eighteen-page quiz on punctuation usage that I’ve been putting together for you then?
No. I’m not saying that all. Old dogs, new tricks, and all that jazz… But what I am saying is that I’ve learned a lot more about comma usage by reading what Kelly has done while Kelly’s been writing with me than I ever learned in the many years of grammar school. Transitional movement, when to complete a sentence and when it’s okay to let an incomplete one slide, split infinitives: all these things and more are things that we can be taught but not quite understand until we see them in action. There are lifetimes of knowledge in the pages of novels that are available to us and they even come with interesting stories to make it seem like we’re not really learning at all!
I guarantee that if you open up your eyes to new ideas then your mind will most certainly follow.
And I look forward to seeing what you do with it. 😀
Until next time!
AF Henley <3
P.S. As a final note, I must (and I do mean must) let you all know that no matter what you may read in the next couple of weeks, and no matter how informed the source may seem, there is no circumstance where a “velour track suit” would ever be found in my home, or be placed on my body. As a matter of fact, out of those three words I find only one of them acceptable even as an entity in itself. I am, however, quite fond of tulle in the right circumstance.