I will write intensity a la Stephen King, dialogue a la Dennis Lehane, sex a la Anne Rice (really, she does it well) and Nora Roberts, characterization a la Ted Dekker, and emotion a la Danielle Steele (say what you will, that woman is the only author that has EVER left me in tears). I will also have a white pony, a moat filled with fun balls and snakes, a yard full of gators, and a room with a glass floor where you can view my pet sharks. Clive will be my pool boy/chauffer/toy.
I’ve got all my goals laid out. Now to reaching them with a perfectly logical, achievable plan. What?
But seriously, I do read these authors, who are among my favorites, because I enjoy them, and because I hope one day I’ll suck up their talent through osmosis. People can say what they will about Stephen King, and they have, but the man can strangle every last drop of intensity from a scene without breaking a sweat. That is the consistent element in all of his work, whether I like the novel or not, they’re all so intense I have to keep reading. I want to be able to do that. Even if the reader puts it down at the end and says “Well that sucked.” He’ll still feel an overwhelming need to finish the book. My goal is to force them to continue to the last page.
I’m still working on intensity, and I think I’m improving, But I think dialogue is my favorite part of writing a novel. When I see a story in my head, it’s almost entirely in dialogue. This is why I often forget setting. I get wrapped up in what’s happening and who is saying what and how they’re saying it, that I forget they can’t just float in space while they carry on. Dennis Lehane, in my opinion, is a dialogue god. I want to take that man and stuff him in a bottle until I can steal all of the dialogue he has left in him. Brilliant. I loved Shutter Island and Mystic River, but I couldn’t pinpoint just what it was that I related to in his writing. As I read those books, I felt like I’d “come home” and it was just so easy and natural to read. Then I picked up Moonlight Mile (READ THIS BOOK) and the lights went on. The man writes like nobody’s business to begin with, but dialogue…wow. I’m breathless just thinking about it. I finished Moonlight Mile and started reading it over again immediately. I’ve never done that. I would marry the man simply for his dialogue skills. No, so far he’s not interested. But you know, it could happen. Clive’s okay with it.
My other favorite thing? Sex. Or rather, writing about it. Not that I don’t enjoy…never mind. Recently I read some articles on writing sex in fiction. Many feel it must have romance in order for it to NOT be porn. I disagree. Sex can be written very tastefully without the romance. In reality, romance rarely enters into sex. Be honest, folks. Sometimes it’s simply an itch you must scratch and there ain’t enough hearts and flowers in the world that can make it go away in these cases. Sure, you might love the person scratching said itch, but that doesn’t mean it’s romantic. I think fiction should reflect that. But I’m rather into novels that are raw in many ways. Nora Roberts, though she may be the romance queen, can write sex without romance and it is very believable and not at all pornographic. She can also write scenes that have me gagging on the unlikelines of the whole event, but you know, it happens to the best of us. Sex is a tough thing to write. Now, Anne Rice; the woman can write a love scene without anyone inserting anything anywhere. You just know it happened. And it was awesome. She can also write some pretty interesting erotica. But I’ll save that for another post. I’d like to think I can write sex scenes like they appear in my head, but until I have some reviews from people who don’t know I’m crazy and might tear their faces off (I kid, I kid) I won’t know for sure.
An important element to writing all of the above is your characters. Characterization is crucial, as we all know, to a great story. You could have a kickass plot, but if the reader can’t relate to your characters, you might well have spent your time knitting a pretty sweater no one will ever wear. Ted Dekker is an artist (most of the time) when it comes to his characters. So are the others I’ve listed, mind you, which is why these are among my most favorite authors of all time, but Ted, he adds a little extra to even the most minor character. When I read his work, I recall characters that appear for one paragraph. That is damn good. His major characters are so developed, I feel as though I’m reading about someone I know. As though I must have met them somewhere because I know exactly what they’ll do and why. This is good. Why? Because it makes them more real when their actions make sense. Even when he throws a twist in there, makes them do something really retarded, you think, “Why didn’t I see that coming? Of course he’d do that!” I think my writing is more character driven than plot driven, although I do try to keep an equal balance between the two. I don’t think you can have one without the other and still have a good story, but now and then, one will outshine the other. I’d rather my characters remain with the reader. If they can’t recall the ending of a story, I can handle that. If they can’t remember the name of the character they just spent 300 pages with, well, there’s a problem.
And emotion. I think in I Do, I managed to suck the last drop of emotion left in my body and put it into the pages of this story. I’m a very emotional person, but I’m not often expressive or demonstrative of those deeper emotions. You know, the ones I can’t easily show with a well-placed curse or three. I actually cried while writing some parts of I Do. I still get weepy when I read them. I don’t know that I could do that novel after novel after novel as Danielle Steele does. I’ve read many, many novels by Ms. Steele and I must say, she really puts the reader through hell. Emotional hell. Letters From Nam is a book I’ll never, ever forget. I had to put it down several times because I just couldn’t read through my tears. There are a few others, but that book almost put me on medication. I want to do that to a reader, but on all levels. I want to make them laugh, cry, scream, rant, hate me, love me, you know; all that stuff.
Those are my writing gods. This is what I try to learn from them. I’ve had a few readers say that this work reminds them of King, that work reminds them of Rice, etc. but I didn’t know why. My writing isn’t really close to theirs, not at their level and not like their style. So why did the readers connect certain works with writers I love so much? We absorb what we love to read. That’s why. I take the parts that make me continue to pick up these writers, and this is how I develop my voice and style. It’s how they developed theirs. We all have influences, even the greats, and it shows I think, to anyone who looks close enough.
Who are your writing gods? Why do you love them? Has your work ever been compared to a writer you love? What about one you hate?
2 thoughts on “When I Grow Up…”
Great post, Renee. My present gurus are Cormac McCarthy, and James Lee Burke, Hilary Mantell – her one sentence description of Mary Tudor's face is brilliant and Edgar Wallace. The latter is bad on so many levels which makes it easier to analyse what it is that still makes him a page turner. The book I last read with gritted teeth is Tim Powers' 'Declare'. Interesting concept but turgid prose and characters you don't give tuppence about.
I have Cormac McCarthy on my "To Read" list. I can't remember who recommended it, but there it is. Maybe I'll see what the ole library has. You know, it is seriously lacking in selection. Sigh. May have to make a trip to the bookstore. Interesting about Edgar Wallace. There are a few authors I read while knowing they're terrible. I just can't help it. Usually it's because despite the awfulness, their characterization is brilliant or something like that.