Tuesday, 18 June 2013

It's not just about the words

Read, read, read…

That's what I’ve been told all my life (it’s also what I tell anyone who asks me how they can write better) if I want to improve my writing: read, read, read, and I take this advice so seriously that I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because frankly I'd rather be reading than proofing. Don't get me wrong, proofing is vital, but that comes later. First, love what you do, love the words, then later spare a little time to get the mechanics right. Odds are, if you've read enough (and written enough), you've probably got it nailed anyway. But it's always nice to be able to sound like you know what you're talking about, right?

So, the whole 'read, read, read' thing. It makes sense. Take musical instruments. If you want to learn to play the guitar, it’s not just about practicing every day, learning to read tab or music or both. It’s about listening to other guitarists, exploring different styles, getting to know everything from jazz to blues to metal to folk. It’s about falling in love with the way certain people play, trying to emulate a Peter Green lick, or something by Joe Satriani.

Writing’s like this. You get better at it by reading how other people do it. You learn new turns of phrase, unique styles, descriptions. And by trying different genres you find out more about what you can do with words, how to use them. But there’s something else I’m going to start saying now, too…

Watch… watch… watch…

Some of the best (and some of the worst) writing around is on the screen, big or small. It’s a world where words become visual. Where they stand up, shout out, and beg to be seen. Which is what we want our writing to do too, right?

I love horror (no surprise there). But it’s not just from the books I read that I learn and develop. It’s from the films I love, too. Horror is a genre I just can’t escape from. Most other types of film don’t really do it for me. I’ve never enjoyed gangster movies. Thrillers are okay, but only if they tread a dark path. Comedies are rarely that funny. I could go on, but I don’t need to. Horror is my go-to choice, book or film. Hell, even music (check out ‘Doomed’ on Somafm.com!)

The stuff that slips into my subconscious can be anything from the haunting simplicity of House on Haunted Hill (Vincent Price!), through the surreal technicolour fairytale brilliance of Suspiria, on past the devastatingly bleak ending of The Beyond, and into the ferocious visceral assault of Frontiers and Martyrs.

So that’s my advice I guess. Yes, read. Read like books are dying, and the more you read, the more you save. But watch also. Dive headfirst into film, in to TV, and immerse yourself in dialogue, in how writers’ visions have been made real. Then use that to fuel your own writing, to turn it into something so dangerously volatile that it explodes in the mind of your reader and never lets them forget the journey they had down the path your words led them.

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