Many author interviews (both bestsellers and indie) offer the advice ‘if you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader.’
Obviously this is true for a number of reasons (construction of the plot, use of language, read my work (that’s cynical but writers do need readers so encouraging people to read is good for business) etc etc) and I would encourage anyone to read. But as my writing journey continues I am also being drawn to other media sources as learning tools.
Several years ago my middle son was at a book reading/signing event. The author asked the assembled children what they loved about reading. My son (and I wish I had thought of this) stated that he loved reading because ‘it was like having a TV in your head.’
As I become more experienced at writing, I find myself analysing the TV programs and movies I watch. In the first instance you are looking at how the writers introduce plot lines, develop characters and build tension. But perhaps the most enlightening moment occurred last night after watching the film ‘The Grey’ with my wife.
Now I am not going to offer an opinion on the film, but my wife said something which will stick with me for the rest of my writing career (if I ever get to refer to it as a career!). One scene involves a plane crashing and the main character is observed fastening his seat belt and preparing for impact. Five minutes later he is alone on a snow blasted mountainside – naturally completely unharmed and his chair is nowhere to be seen. My wife asked a simple question – how did he get thrown clear, when other characters were found trapped in their seats? My response was simple – he is Liam Neeson and so has to survive. But the point she was making was that the writers/directors/whoever made a big thing about Liam fastening his seatbelt, what followed expected the audience to ignore this or just accept that fastening a seatbelt will save you by not keeping you strapped into your seat. Whilst we debated this minor plot point back and forth (we aren’t actually this boring!) I had my ‘penny drop’ moment. The sequence of events was unrealistic and at that point lost my wives attention. So – keep it real (or as real as your self-created world allows) your readers are not idiots.
The final point in this post concerns video games (I can hear the eyes rolling from here). Many of the pointers that can be gleaned from reading and watching also apply to video games – many of them tell stories. Many of them are part of a long franchise, played by millions of people around the world – so they must be doing something right to hold their audience’s attention.
However, video games do offer another element – experience. Hands up all those people who have killed a real life zombie, fought in the trenches or bought down a dragon using a bow and arrow – not even the most celebrated authors have actually done these things, but through video games you can experience them (OK from the comfort of your sofa and without the threat of death). Let me illustrate the point.
I studied the First World War at school, I know the dates; the political reasons for the conflict; the effect it had on ordinary people; the conditions in the trenches etc etc. I have visited battlefield cemeteries, walked the fields where thousands died, visited the Imperial War Museum and walked through life size models of the trenches complete with smells and noises (within strict health and safety audio parameters) of the frontline. But I (thankfully) wasn’t actually there.
I have, however, due to a bestselling video game franchise, inched my way across no mans land, zig zagging from blast crater to blast crater in an attempt to not end up dead. I could hear the shouts of my fellow soldiers, the boom of the shelling and gunfire, but I couldn’t see it as my virtual face was in the mud as I crawled across the ground. I have no way of knowing if the relief I felt reaching the enemy trenches was anything like the relief the real soldiers felt, but I know I had an experience I would not have gained from a book or a movie.
So read, watch and if possible play. I think your readers will thank you for it.