Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Guest Blogger - No, wait! It's me!

I'm having a wonderful time here on Fictionmatters learning from these authors, and agents. I'm excited to read what's coming up in the weeks to come! Believe me, there is a wonderful line up yet to come.

I wanted to weigh in with some thoughts about books for writers. As many of you faithful blog readers well know, I like to talk about books on writing (just check out the previous series on my blog). But, I wanted to go beyond the obvious and talk about books I recommend as tools for writing that, on the surface, don't seem likely suspects.

The People's Almanac Presents: The Book of Lists (I II and III). These are absolute treasures in my house. Crammed with information about the most interesting, mundane, extraordinary things any writer could hope for.

15 Composers who died in unusual circumstances.The original titles of 27 famous books. The 10 worst films of all time (as of 1980). 10 people who had stigmata. 60 celebrated persons and their brain radiation levels. Oh! The joy!

If this sounds like simple, campy fun, you're missing the writer's boat. Within these lists are millions of story ideas, leads for interesting historical figures that can fit nicely in your fab novel, and a zillion leads to follow while getting your facts straight. Plus, all that trivia makes you the hit of the party! You can track these gems down online, at used book stores, or garage sales. That's right - they're out of print.

Along the same lines, come the easily found Bathroom Reader series - found in discerning potty rooms everywhere. They offer trivia, interesting stories, oddities, lists, information, and tid-bits aplenty. They lack the literary charm of The Book of Lists, and the subject matter is (pardon the pun) more down to earth, but they are still a great place to look for ideas.

Design and construction books; their not just for dreaming anymore! Have you ever been writing a scene that involves describing a house, a piece of furniture, a paint color, or some other important detail and just draw a blank? I have. I think my books are populated with so many wing back chairs because its the one type of chair whose name I can remember. Well, help is here! Your local library, or hardware store, is stocked to the rafters (hey! there's a construction detail right there!) with books that will help you know your deck fasteners from your spring latches - your Louise VIII from your Swedish sling back. Write with authority!

In a scene in my upcoming novel Talking to the Dead, my protagonist visits her mother, a recent widow. She notices a smooth stone on the counter and the two women discuss the benefits of baking stones. The point of the scene is for Kate, our hero, to take notice of the many subtle changes in her Mother's life and home since her father passed away. Where did I get the idea of a baking stone? You guessed it. A cook book. It's fun to create characters who eat things I would never put in my mouth, dine in restaraunts I can't afford, and know about cooking techniques I never have time for. It also adds dimention to your characters.

Books about the major world religions. Canada prides itself on being a "cultural mosaic". A place where every culture, religion, and worldview can be practiced and appreciated. Regardless of how you may feel about that, the fact remains there are millions of people around you who are speaking a different spiritual language. If you are wanting to communicate larger truths to these people in your writing, it's a good idea to have a rudementary idea of what they believe in, and, perhaps, why. This will broaden your worldview, increase your empathy for others, and you will learn fasinating things about the people around you.

This short list gives you the idea that writers really do find ideas "everywhere". The truth is one idea for a single charater, or setting, or scene, can come, literally from a dozen sources which are blended together into seamless, stunning fiction.
Here are some more great books I've used to enhance my fiction writing:
Psychology and Sociology text books.
History text books.
Off-beat non-fiction such as a wee gem called The Pregnant Man and other cases from a hypnotherapists couch
Medical pamphlets found in doctor's waiting room
A letter a man had written to a Dear Abby type column in my local newspaper
My old journals
Faithful bloggers, it's time to share your treasured gems of idea books with the rest of us. Have you read something recently that, to other people, would seem banal, but you used as inspiration? What do you think of the books I've posted as writer's aids? I'd love to hear from you!
Until then, I bid you good writing.


Eileen Astels Watson said...

Newspapers. I know, sounds boring, but I get lots of tidbit ideas from our daily newspaper when I actually take the time to go through it. Often it starts me on a research hunt for more information, or is the seed to a new story I start to cultivate.

Literally everything is fodder for a writer, in my humble opinion.

Colleen Taylor said...

Speaking of newspapers, the small newspaper I work for runs a column by the funny and insightful Martha Morgan (of Saskatoon). In a recent article Martha recalls wondering as a child why so many television and movie characters (especially in cartoons) don't eat -- or go to the bathroom -- before going on adventures. So, including food in a book is definitely a great idea! Martha would like it.

Bonnie Grove said...

Newspapers have great ideas, too, yes!

Colleen, I used to always wonder why people on TV never watched TV. :)