My World Revolves Around
Learning from other Books and Genres
By Catrin Pitt
I'm a new fiction writer. I mean brand new. It was less
than a year ago that I took up the quill and parchment and wrote my first
novel. Okay, so I sat in front of a PC and my fingers typed. And I am
still writing my first novel. But in those first few months whilst these
ideas filled my head and I was desperate to get them out, for fear of
forgetting, I stopped reading. I read literally nothing but the words I had
Now, my mother will tell you that I was born with a book
in my hand. My father will rant about the money he spent on glasses for his
little girl, after she spent many hours using a torch to read instead of
sleep. He ignores the fact that both he and Mum wore glasses. My dear
husband would not be able to count the times we went to bed together and
read, and he woke with his morning alarm to find me still reading. Yet I
stopped reading. Cold turkey.
Why? At the time I was scared that the words in my head,
the virtual book I was reading, would be 'contaminated' by others. Every
waking moment was spent on my own words. I carried pen and paper and
scribbled when I could. While driving, I would discuss my characters and
story line, the next scene, the next paragraph with my twelve-year-old
sons. They at least didn't think I was any crazier than normal. When I was
at work, sitting in front of my PC, my characters would start to talk and I
would have to listen and write. Or I would be driving and instead of seeing
the road ahead I saw the battle between my protagonist and his archrival.
Heaven only knows how I managed to get my boys to and from school safely.
And nighttimes were for writing, even to the extent of waking in the wee
small hours and quietly sitting at my PC tapping away. But I avoided books
like they were a disease. And they would have been.
But finally my story became settled, the characters
entrenched, their personalities only changing as the action affected them.
Their lives, and mine, settled into a pattern of quiet contemplation, of
characters and scenes still inflicting themselves on me, but softer, less
insistent, and I found that not only could I carry on a normal existence,
but I could remember those words, recall the scenes as if I had them on
tape. And in the evenings I spent time with my family, my husband. And I
did sleep -- well, most nights, anyway.
And I picked up a book.
I was at a stage in the book where I wanted to write a
love scene. Not one where the two partners tear each others clothes off and
every action is described in detail. And not one where they looked into
each other's eyes and suddenly woke lying together. I wanted to write words
that took my reader (and me) through the discovery of these two people's
attraction for each other. I wanted to write of the chemistry that made
their bodies and souls long to touch, to make love. I wanted to feel it
with them, not when I saw it in my head, but when I read the words. And I
Every time I sat in front of the screen and started I had
Damian and Ryna run through the forest in an almost childish game of tag. I
had Ryna tag the one she felt an attraction to, turn and run from him. I
had Damian use his strength and speed to tag and catch her, with them
falling on to a soft pile of autumn leaves. And that's where it stopped.
Anything else I wrote from there felt stilted, forced, pathetic. I left it
and wrote the next scene, moving on for another four chapters, but each time
I sat to write I would try to write my love scene. For without that one
scene there was no future. My two would not make a couple, their children
would not be born, the future of their whole race would be jeopardized.
After a while (to me it seemed like ages, an eternity,
but was only a week or two), I felt blocked. No words came; not on this
scene, nor any other. I had to do something. So in desperation, and with a
promise I would not plagiarize, I picked up another book. One I had read
many times and one that I knew had love scenes, love scenes that I had been
comfortable in reading. I scanned the book, honing in on the action I
wished to emulate. I read each scene three times, mentally noting what I
liked and disliked, what words were used, how the scene was set and how the
action took place.
Armed with fresh ideas I turned to my PC and... nothing.
The words the other author had written weren't right for my story. So now
what? I searched my bookshelf for novels I remembered having romance
within. Although my books number in the hundreds, I found very few. I knew
that I mainly read science fiction, fantasy, and biographies, but I hadn't
realised how those genres dominated my reading over the years, nor realised
how few of them included a romantic scene. Oh, I had read romantic and
historical novels, I had read mysteries and horror, but most had been
borrowed, from the library or from friends. Few were my own. And few I had
read had inspired me enough to purchase them for my collection.
So now I raided the library, taking out as many books as
allowed per visit. But I wasn't reading the whole book. I skipped and
scanned for the scenes and action I desired. I would 'finish' a book in a
matter of hours. And the library couldn't satisfy my needs quickly enough.
Then I remembered a small second hand bookstore, one that sold books by the
bagful, for a charity. For a measly five dollars I could purchase as many
books as I could stuff into a shopping bag. The volunteer ladies at the
store came to know me well.
"Have you found what you're looking for, dear?"
"I read a wonderful book by -----, just up your alley, my
"I'm sure we can fit another book or two in that bag."
"Don't worry love, I know they're going to a good home.
Here, just take this one."
I purchased books on any topic, of any genre, fiction and
non fiction. I'd look at the blurb, the first page, a random page or two
and see if something about it caught my interest. If one small aspect of
this new book could perhaps pertain to a scene I had imagined in my own
story, it would be added to my pile. It didn't matter if it helped or not.
The most expensive book cost no more than twenty cents. And the bookstore
had a wonderful policy: return a bag of books and they would take one dollar
off your next purchase.
I created towers of books beside my bed (as much as he
loves me and understood, even encouraged, my new found passion, my hubby
didn't let me use his side of the room). I would spend any time I could
with a book open. I read while I waited for my boys to come out of school
(I swear I didn't read whilst waiting for the traffic lights to change). I
devised a means to prop a book open whilst I washed the dishes. A book
graced the table whilst I ate breakfast and lunch (but not dinner, one of
the few times we all sat down to eat together). I had a book stashed next
to the toilet, and still do actually. Instead of watching my boys train or
play sport I read.
And the words began to flow again. Not just my love
scene (which did thanks to romance novels), but any scene. When Cameron and
Baun fought I used the words I discovered in a novel (or two) on martial
arts. When Damian used meditation to calm his thoughts and emotions I used
a conglomerate of ideas and words I found in a variety of meditation self
help books. When Baun's shoulder was crushed between the jaws of... (I'm
not going to say, that will spoil the story for you), his wounds, his pain
and ultimately his recovery were helped by the books I had read on medicine,
by those in the horror genre and of the war years.
Since the rediscovery of the joys of reading I have
expanded the list of genres I read. I don't keep every book. Most go back
to my fabulous bookshop. But some I have found invaluable and they grace my
bookshelves (well, they are still on the floor; every time I try to save for
a new bookshelf I find the money gets spent on another bag of books). I
have also written more stories. One is historical, so now I have books with
Roman or Celtic settings, as well as books on weaponry. I started another
set in a prison, so I have both fact and fiction books pertaining to prison
life. I have a new story developing in my head. Whilst it is fantasy, it
has a darkness about it that I don't usually find in the books I read, so my
library now includes dark tales and even erotica (only don't tell my boys,
please). This new story has also meant the inclusion of the history of
governments and economic endeavours on my shelves.
And I'm pleased to say I have finished the first draft of
my first novel, and am slowly editing and rewriting chapter by chapter.
With a vast library of 'research' books behind me.