Read What You Write (+ Giveaway!)

May 2, 2011 at 9:00 am (General, Writing) (, , , , , )

I don’t mean the act of actually going back and re-reading what you’ve written; I mean this in a more general way: read the type of stuff you want to write. Nothing really functions in isolation. If you want to write mysteries, you need to read mysteries, see how they work, and how to write twists and and clues and reveals and motives and false leads and all that. What works? What things do different authors do that really amaze you as both a reader and writer? And how do they do them? What doesn’t work? Sometimes we guess things too easily, or the resolution doesn’t make sense even after the explanations. By reading mysteries off the shelves, you can start identifying the patterns of the genre, the things that all mysteries- no matter their actual content, style, or overall impact- seem to have in common. You’ll see what separates the books that are shelved as mystery from the books that have mystery elements, as well as what separates a detective novel from a cozy.

The same rule applies no matter what it is you want to write. Want to write science-fiction? Read the sci-fi writers. Do you gravitate more towards hard or soft sci-fi? Don’t know the difference? Read up on it and you will, and you’ll also know where your book belongs. Want to write fantasy? There’s a lot of different sub-genres of fantasy. Do you want urban fantasy? High fantasy? Epic fantasy? (Which, yes, is different from high fantasy). If you’re writing for teens, READ TEEN BOOKS. Don’t be this guy, who looks to adult books to try to figure out teens. Read these things for yourself. See what’s out there.There’s an element of courtesy in this, too: after all, the people who write those books are the people you want to call your colleagues someday.

Mostly, though, it’s practical. You want to know where on the shelf your book belongs. You don’t want to write to trends, but you do want to know what’s out there. You want to see what people like- what YOU like. If you want to work on your voice, read books with really great voice. Pick them apart, take notes, see what really makes that voice so astonishing, and incorporate what you learn into your writing exercises. Need help with your pacing? Look for a book that does this really well and pick it apart. The more you read, the more books you’ll find that can help you figure out your own way to do things.

Take fairy tales, for instance. Fairy tales are public domain, one of the many reasons there are so many retellings and reimaginings of them. If you’re planning to write a fairy tale retelling, you definitely want to read the other ones out there. You want yours to stand out, but you still want to keep some elements true to the original story. So. Look to the other retellings. What are the elements they keep in common? In the same vein, what are the things they change to make the story their own? To make it unique? You can have a great idea and write all the way through it only to find out that almost the same story is already sitting on the shelves. It SUCKS- but it happens. So see what’s out there.

Writing a retelling of Cinderella? Take a look at some of the retellings out there:
Princess of Glass, by Jessica Day George
Cindy Ella, by Robin Palmer
Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry
Just Ella, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Ash, by Malinda Lo
Palmer’s version is contemporary, set in our day, our kind of world. George’s is essentially a historical fiction, set in an eighteenth century variation of Europe. The others are different levels of fantasy. Each one looks at it in a different way. Berry has her Cinderella figure pick up the shoe. Levine answers a question I always had- why did Cinderella stay and slave away for her wretched step-family? Well, that’s easy- because she’s cursed with obedience.

One of my absolute favorite fairy tales of all time is the twelve dancing princesses, and in the past couple of years, there have been three fantastic retellings:
Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George (actually the book that precedes Princess of Glass
Entwined, by Heather Dixon
The Thirteenth Princess, by Diane Zahler
Zahler’s version is told by the youngest princess, relegated to the kitchens after her father’s disappointment at yet another girl, and so she looks for help in rescuing her sisters from their fate. George places us in baroque Germany, while Dixon gives us a pseudo-Regency world of magic similar to England. In each one, the reasons for the sisters to dance are different, as are the solutions.

How about Sleeping Beauty? Soooo many Sleeping Beauty stories out there, but check out how different these are:
Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card, with an olde Russian princess and even older magics mixing with the modern world.
A Kiss in Time, by Alex Flinn, has an old kingdom waking up to our modern world, with a king VERY unhappy about his daughter’s rescuer
A Long, Long Sleep, by Anna Sheehan, has our Sleeping Beauty waking up from a chemical-induced coma to take the crown of an unstable, interstellar empire (forthcoming in August)
The Wide-Awake Princess, by E.D. Baker is actually from the point of view of our Sleeping Beauty’s sister, immune to the curse and out to find the right prince to rescue her sister. There are several fairy tales woven through this one which make it a fun read, kind of like looking back at a yearbook and naming as many people as you can remember.
Briar Rose, by Jane Yolen, weaves the traditional elements of the story of La Belle au Bois Dormant with the horrors of the Holocaust, concentration camps, and the Resistance.
Healer’s Apprentice, by Melanie Dickerson, takes us back to pre-Reformation Germany and a dark curse that threatens the union between two great families.

So many different fairy tales, so many different retellings, but every single one of them makes itself unique in some way when put against other variations of the same tale. If you’re getting ready to do a version of Beauty and the Beast, check out either version by Robin McKinley, or the stories by Alex Flinn, Holly Black, and Mercedes Lackey. Little Red Ridinghood has surged in popularity recently, like the version by Jackson Pearce that has Little Red whomping on the Big Bad Wolf as a professional werewolf hunter with more than a few scars. Is this a complete list? By no means. There are a ton of them out there, all of them distinct from each other.

So I think it’s time for another giveaway! And there are two, count them TWO, prizes!*

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment. That’s it. You get an extra point if you follow the blog, and another extra point if you follow me on Twitter (@dothutchison). Make sure in your comment that you leave your email address so I can contact you if you win, and your Twitter handle so I can connect that extra point to you.

PRIZE PACK ONE: paperback editions of Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass. ** To enter for this one, tell me what your favorite fairy tale is and why.

PRIZE PACK TWO: hardback of Heather Dixon’s beautiful Entwined. To enter for this one, tell me what fairy tale you would love to retell, and how you’d do it.

And that’s it! Three great books, two prize packs, and only one comment needed to enter, plus those extra chances. You can enter for both prizes with one comment, just include both answers, or if you’d rather answer only one, that’s okay too!Contest is open for entries now through Friday the 13th!

Until next time~
Cheers!

*- US only, sorry; postage is expensive.

**-The paperback for this doesn’t actually come out until June 21st, so the winner will have the option of getting the first book and a gift card for the second, or receving the first book now and the second when it comes out.

May 14 am: Okay, all, contest is closed! I will announce winners this evening and send out the appropriate emails (I just have to do that pesky thing called working for a living first). Tune in tonight for results!

May 14 pm: And now that the mandatory labor is done, I can announce THE WINNERS! Thanks to random.org, all the extra points were added up and popped in to the randomizer, and we have TWO WINNERS.

PRIZE PACK ONE: for paperback copies of Jessica Day George’s Princess books, we have Nikki!

PRIZE PACK TWO: for Heather Dixon’s Entwined, we have alittleteteatete!

I’ve sent the e-mails out, so thank you everyone for participating! There’ll be more giveaways in the future, and in the meantime, lots of book reviews and chatter, so stay tuned. Cheers!

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