Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

My World Revolves Around Books
Learning from other Books and Genres

By Catrin Pitt
2006,
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 written.

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 couldn't.

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 dear."

"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.