I used to write short stories. Composing poetry at six and creating a cartoon periodical for the children in my neighborhood at eight, it was the next logical step. It's a pity I didn't keep up with fiction writing as it was a highly creative and entertaining pursuit. By comparison, business writing is quite limiting.
The silver lining in the whole dissertation process of translating a collection of short stories was understanding where the writer was coming from in the stories, learning to deconstruct the writing style, the use of language and metaphors, and connecting with the author's point of view.
I've been thinking about fiction more since I started reading and learning from Nathan Bransford, a literary agent who has built and aggregated a set of very useful resources for aspiring authors. His work helps me think creatively in my work.
Organizing interactions is the beauty of marketing in social media. Plus, when you read like a writer, you can advance your own writing -- first by mimicking the style you like, then by fully developing your own voice.
Finding your masters
For years, I studied the classics in Latin, Greek, and Italian. You will find new meaning when you read authors in their original language. That's why I was thrilled when able to read in English, and to some extent in German and French. The best translations are no substitute for the original voice.
Try reading Dante Alighieri in English, or Shakespeare in Italian, and you'll know what I'm saying. It's not only the classics. Perhaps it was more that way back then because people were rooted to their communities, not as global or traveled in their knowledge.
Some modern books I enjoyed all around are:
Legacy (Amazon affiliate link) by Alan Judd
I always liked a good spy novel, and this didn't disappoint me. Judd's British style and language left an impression on me. He wrote the line I'm reminded of very often when thinking about learning and knowledge and staying curious "just because we think we know, we stop looking."
It's one of the few quotes I jotted down when reading a novel.
The Pillars of the Earth (Amazon affiliate link) by Ken Follett
Maybe because I spent so much time studying about medieval history, I loved the story in this book. It's a story about the people who built Cathedrals in the 12th century. Follett, who is otherwise famous for writing spy novels does such a good job with character development in this book that you, as a reader, invest emotionally in them.
It's almost like watching them as they grow into adults and live their story. It's no wonder they developed a mini-series for TV.
A Prayer for Owen Meany (Amazon affiliate link) by John Irving
The story was also made into a movie, Simon Birch. Also written by an Englishman, this is the story of a peculiar character, and is filled with plenty of subplots. Given my writing style and how I tend to connect things at the end, I resonated with Irving's work.
I do like a good intellectual challenge and reading this novel provided me with one. Plus what other character has said "your mother has the best breasts of all the mothers" that you can recall?
Narcissus and Goldmund (Amazon affiliate link) by Herman Hesse
I read this one in both Italian and German. Translating is hard enough, when you add the complexity of two different cultures, you know you may be missing out. Hesse introduces us to two characters who are very different from each other. One is introverted and a scholar, the other is extroverted, a lover and an artist.
The characters in fact represent archetypes and in a way lead the reader to explore the duality between doing things for self and doing them for others.
I could be here all night writing about my favorite novels -- I've read so many. I picked these mostly because of character development and the internal dialogue that the authors manage to pull off. While reading, you're connecting with the people in the story.
Experimenting with character and story development
I've done this a couple of times by letter with dear friends. One of us would start writing a story, and the other would continue developing it in the next letter, then pass the baton. The hardest part for me at the beginning was dialogue, I was much better versed at developing the scene and setting up the story/context.
However, over time, I learned to give in to the voices in my head -- yes, you suspected that, didn't you? -- and getting fully immersed in the conversation as we went along. It can be quite entertaining not knowing what is going to happen next.
And collaborating with others teaches you a lot about yourself. Not to mention it's a great way to play the "what if," "then what" game.
Social interactions and engagement
As I started writing this post, I ran a search to see if anyone else had written about fiction writing and came across this post Harry wrote at Men With Pens about escaping reality through writing a couple of years ago.
Gaming is indeed a form of escapism, and collaborating on writing a story can be a fun way to play a game. I had not thought about it that way, yet now I see it. To put it with Plato, "you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." Take that, Conversation Agent (the voices in my head).
I was glad to read the post and the comments. And now you have yet another resource you can tap for improving your writing. Of course, my favorite and often quoted resource for learning story development is Robert McKee.
If you understand how play and gaming work, by engaging the participants in activities driven by their own preferences and skill levels, you will have a distinct advantage when creating online environments for community interaction with a purpose.
And did I mention the ability to develop characters, which can help you with understanding personas?
Interested in writing fiction? Janet Burroway's guide to narrative craft comes highly recommended (Amazon affiliate link).
I was surprised to learn that others have engaged with writing a story, though I did it via mail. Before blogging, I actually used to love writing by hand. I still write work notes, birthday and thank you cards by hand. The paper kind.
What are your favorite fiction books? Do you read a lot of fiction? Have you played a version of the building-a-story-together game?