Today, I'm trying a little exercise and I'd love to hear from anyone else who tries it too!
I'm going to pick a book I love, and then try to figure out what it is, exactly, that I love about it - and, as such, try to see if I apply those things to my own work. As I see it, people aren't anomalies; so what one of us loves, many other people are likely to love too. So what better way to become a better writer than to find out what it is about our favourite books we love, and use that in our work?
(Yep, I'm sure there are better ways. But I'm dramatic at heart and so I'm sticking by my claim. Sticking by it, I tell you!)
I've picked Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek, and I've picked it apart. So what do I love so much about it?
Any fellow du Maurier fans will know that her writing is beautiful; but never more so, I think, than in Frenchman's Creek, a story about a discontented woman, a pirate, and a bittersweet love story. (Gosh, I am a sucker for my bittersweet love stories, aren't I?)
I'll admit freely that if it wasn't for the beauty of her writing, I wouldn't enjoy her books half as much. Without the poignant descriptions, the imagery, the flawless rendering of complex, indefinable emotions onto paper, Frenchman's Creek would not be the book it is.
Largely because of this, and the first time I read this novel, I try to make my writing beautiful. I don't have even half of Daphne du Maurier's skill, but I do try and it always makes me feel like my story comes alive about a thousand times more than it would otherwise. When I write in first person, I always make sure to stay in my character's voice, but beautiful writing can take different forms and I try to take care with my words, whether I succeed at achieving what I'd hoped or not.
I don't really need to go into this in detail, because I'm sure most of you will feel the same way. If the characters don't grab me - if they don't feel real, or wonderful, or make me laugh or cry - then I can't quite love a book as much, or even half as much. Frenchman's Creek has a host of brilliant characters, from the hilarious William to headstrong Dona to the complicated and decidedly not stereotypical Frenchman pirate.
I don't think I ever consciously applied this love to my writing, though. For me, characters either come naturally - which means they're worth writing about to me - or they feel stilted and wooden, in which case I can't write about them. Characters are so important to me that, unconsciously, they're the thing I always love most about writing.
Sense of place
Again, all du Maurier fans will know how instrinsic and essential Cornwall is to her novels. She makes it feel like such a living, breathing place: from the moors, to the cliffs, to the sea, to - above all - the houses and homes and spectres of old ghosts and shadows. I never read one of her novels without coming away with a strong sense of place, and Frenchman's Creek is the book that first made me long to see Cornwall (still haven't).
I took a leaf out of her book ages ago and I try, too, to make my places real. I never force it, and I certainly don't try to mimic her style, but I always keep a sense of place in my mind and in the story. Sometimes it comes naturally, and then I let it flow the way it wants to. If I'm struggling and a sense of place is called for, I work harder at it. It always depends on the story.
A relationship that comes at a price, and with sacrifice, and which you find yourself rooting for from the moment you see the characters together
I don't really need to explain this, do I? Except maybe to say that I love fictional relationships with conflict, and drama, but also natural chemistry. I hate relationships that feel forced, or unrealistic, or just plain irritate me because I can't understand how they could possibly work at all. I talk a lot about fictional relationships in my themed week, so I'm going to stop here.
There are other things I've loved and learned from Frenchman's Creek, but these are the most significant of them, the ones that have impacted on my writing the most.
Do you learn from the books and stories you love? Do you do it consciously or is it an unconscious thing that filters into your writing or, for the non-writers out there, into your other passions?
PS. The Character Interview Blogfest is exactly one week away! Do sign up!