Getting through a novel in a short amount of time means it becomes quite easy to get lost in your own stories. And the more you think about your story—similar to when you spend a lot of time thinking about your words—the more it starts twisting and distorting and looking like something no decent reader would spend any time with, and why would you spend time writing it, then?
Thus, the need for other people’s stories—yes, even in November—and yes, even if you’ve barely got time to sleep, even less read or watch or listen to something unrelated to writing.
Stories are, luckily, all over the place. Sometimes they’re stories you’ve spent ages choosing among a huge number of offers similar to your taste (shall we say… an e-book store?). Sometimes they’re stories you stumble up across while looking for something else (like, a movie trailer at the cinema which leads to learning more about mid-century car racing in France than you ever thought you wanted to know). Sometimes, they’re stories other people tell, which is the case when you’re lucky enough to spend enough time around other writers, and then you swap plots and characters and writing issues, and you get to lose yourself for a while in another person’s universe.
Because that’s the point, actually. Losing yourself—finding yourself—forgetting all about your novel, at least for a little while. Reading books and watching movies and tv shows, inhaling other people’s plots and the fun stuff which make fiction in all its forms, is one of the best ways I can think of to relax, especially after—or even before—a writing session. It might seem counterproductive, but I’ve found that nothing makes me write as much as a few minutes’ break with a semi-good novel. Find what works for you, and use it to your writing advantage.
There’s only one rule—while writing werewolves, never ever read werewolf novels. That’s why I’ve tried to avoid reading any historics set in the first half of the 20th century, this November, and why I’m switching my usual dose of paranormals with hardcore down to earth, real-life stuff. Inspiration is one thing, bleed through a different one.
Of course, as a reader first, writer second, sometimes you can’t help seeing patterns in the stories you tell and the stories you read/watch/listen to, which just might make you feel like all the stories in all the world have already been told. You might see other people’s stories in your own writing, too—sometimes by chance, sometimes through deliberate inspiration and/or hommage. (That’s why I could tell you stories included in the novel I’m currently writing, but even though you’ve read them all, it wouldn’t give the exact right picture about what the novel will be like.)*
It helps, then, to remember that no other person can tell your story the way you can. If anybody else wrote about hyperactive, vertically challenged military strategists in space and imperial ballrooms, I probably wouldn’t have picked up theier book—but when Lois McMaster Bujold does that, I end up obsessing over her stories for almost two decades already. Victorian jewel thieves—now that’s a story—might be all fun and games until KJ Charles does it, and brings enough angst and heavy subjects to the table that I end up re-reading her books because I’m that kind of reader.
Unless you deliberately and purposefully use too much of another person’s story (and that’s between you and your deity, if you have one of those, or your honour, if that’s your fancy) and (gasp) you get caught, you’re probably good to go.
Tell your story. Use your downtime for enjoying other people’s stories. And remember that we’re all ‘stories in the end’, eh?
Good luck with yours!
*But I won’t. Because of reasons.
Photo by Lauren McKinnon.