My reading plan for this year: read more “widely”

stack-of-books-1531138The biggest pet peeve I have with myself is how I don’t read widely enough. What I mean is, I don’t read across genres. I stick to the same kinds of books. At the end of each year, I look at the list of books I’ve read and I realize it’s two-thirds speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror and so on.

Now, if I could, I would read speculative fiction exclusively. It’s like eating nothing but dessert all the time. That’s not healthy. So, in an attempt to be more well-rounded, to be better educated, to read more widely, I used an Excel spreadsheet to get my 2016 reading plan started.

Here’s what I did:

Across the top of the spreadsheet, I listed different genres of books I want to touch upon throughout the year. Here is my list: General Literature/Best Sellers; textbooks; Science Fiction; Fantasy; Biography; Classics; Poetry; Drama; Graphic Novels; Short Story Anthology; Spiritual; History; Art; Writing Instruction; British Literature Middle Ages; British Literature Renaissance. These are the areas I want to read in this year; your list may be different.

Next, I take all the books I have on “TO READ” lists — and I have several different ones, both digital and hard copy — and consolidate them on the spreadsheet. Each book goes into one of the categories. A particular book might fit into more than one column, but you decide which genre you want to put it under.

Next, I select a book, read it, then go to the next column and pick a book in a different genre and read it, and so on, and so on. I read about 30-40 books a year, so this will ensure I go through the cycle about two times. The idea is to not read two books in the same column until you have read one from all the other columns.

As a result, by the end of the year, I am a more well-rounded reader.

Pros, Cons and Tips for this method:

  • Tip: I add books throughout the year as I hear about them.
  • Tip: Of course, I’m not going to be able to read every book on the list in one year. I can just use this as a running list so I also have suggestions for something to read.
  • Tip: I don’t necessarily read the book at the top of the column. I just pick a book in a column that strikes my fancy at that moment.
  • Tip: No need to be legalistic about using this spreadsheet. I will probably cheat and read an extra science fiction or fantasy novel here and there.
  • Pro: I end up reading a better balance of fiction and non-fiction books.
  • Pro: My mind is expanded by reading book I keep putting off to read.
  • Pro: By reading more widely, I become a better writer.
  • Con: If you like to just read for pleasure and not worry about reading across the genres, then this method would probably feel too constricting.
  • Con: You only get to read your favorite genres when they come around. But, as I mentioned earlier, I will probably cheat a little.

It’s simple. It’s effective.

Happy reading.

 

 

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Support Self-Published Writers and Small Publishing Houses

printing-press-1181030.jpgAs I plan my reading list for 2016, I want to include several self-published writers and small, independent publishing companies. So far I plan to read the following:

The Final Quarter

football-1437517I am down to the last 25% of the current draft of my novel which I’m now calling Ziggurat Reach. Whether that is a working title or a final title, I don’t know.

I know what is happening in the last part of my novel. I am building up to the story’s climax and all the characters have finally gathering to one place–the ziggurat, in case you’re wondering– and a lot of things are about to happen.

Here are some thoughts on what I’m trying to accomplish and how I’m feeling as I’m writing this week:

  • Each character has a goal he or she is in the process of fulfilling, and I’m figuring out ways the goals will be finalized in this last quarter.
  • K.M. Weiland has said she wrote more than one version of the climactic scene. I think I may do that.
  • Scrivener has been a godsend in motivating me to get moving on this novel.
  • In my next draft, I have a whole new subplot I’ll be writing. At this point, it’s outlined in Scrivener, but I’ll be composing first drafts for those scenes after I finish this draft.
  • Saving up to buy some ISBN numbers. Deciding whether to break the story down into four mini-novel episodes. The first one would be free. I would also offer the novel as a whole for a cheaper price than buying the three remaining mini-novel episodes.
  • Still deciding whether to use Smashwords or Amazon or both (at different times).

Well, tonight I’ll be toiling away on novel. Maybe I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop, Heine Brothers in Northfield area of my city, Louisville, Kentucky.