Go Elsewhere, Young Man

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-08-28 21:00:00 No comments

A Steven Savage think-piece:

Writing Fiction By Ignoring It - Steven Savage

When you’re reading fiction you’re getting lessons in things like how to write. There are examples of portraying emotions, plotting a tight story, and so on. You may be inspired by some of the ideas, but inspiration from someone else’s fiction can only take you so far because those ideas come from that given author. If you only take inspirations from fictional works that you are at best A) deconstructing them (worthy but at times limiting) or B) imitating them (which we have enough of, thanks).

The lead-in to this is the provocative statement, "The best way to write fiction is to read, watch, and listen to anything but fiction." I am not sure that it is the best way, but I think it is ultimately one of the most valuable.

There is a type of aspiring writer that I found myself meeting a great deal who seems to embody the above issue. This person is typically young, enthusiastic, with a great many recent fiction influences to draw on. But outside of those influences, they tend not to be very polyvorous — they're not too familiar with recent history, let alone curious about it, for instance. And they almost never read nonfiction apart from maybe Cracked-style conceptual listicles. (Not that those are bad, it's the lack of variety that's galling.)

I don't paint this picture as a way of fomenting contempt for this type. If you meet someone like this on the road, encourage them as best you can — find things they can connect to that can get them curious about the world they do inhabit and must draw on anyway. People like this need to have some idea of what they're missing and what it's costing them.

Another thing I want to point out is that the inspiration Steve talks about does not have to be a one-to-one thing. One of the things I seek out as a sub-interest is fiction from Africa, when it's available in English — not because I want to copy anything, or because I want to write such a story, but because I want to have that many more facets of experience to be familiar with. The point isn't to do these things with a conscious agenda of what you want to get out of it, but to do them as a way to allow your way of engaging with things to remain open. It's practice. (And it doesn't hurt to be familiar with those things on their own terms. African fiction by nonwhite authors is only just now getting its day in the West after decades of being a marginal thing.)

Something else Steve did in his piece was itemize a lot of the conscious influences on his work from places other than fiction. This is tough for me to do because I don't think I've yet systematized my understanding of my influences to that degree.

For instance, I know a lot of my interest in Buddhism generally and Zen in particular finds its way into what I do, but not because I'm trying to write fiction that I want consciously identified with those systems of thought or practice paths. It's just part of a worldview I know I have and which will inevitably be reflected in what I do in some form.

More importantly, I'm not always certain that something influences me in the way I think it does. I'd like to say that my interest in movies and filmmaking influences me in terms of how a drama can be constructed visually (how you show instead of telling), but it's more likely that I just like paying homage to certain flavors of film, that I'm someone who likes to try and echo a certain style, and not because I have anything terribly high-minded going on.

So if I don't run down a list the way Steve did, it's not because I don't have one, but because I'm skeptical of how well such a list would reflect my actual use of the things in it. I do know, though, that it's essential to pay attention to things that are not your work, not your way, not you.

Tags: Steven Savage Dialogues inspiration writers writing