Why Read Fiction? For the Writing… but also Because “Strategy is your Words”


Fiction reading

 

When you read like a writer, you can advance your own writingfirst by picking up cues from the style you like, then developing your voice. Plus, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut,” says Stephen King in On Writing. A Memoir of the Craft.

Mark Pollard says “Strategy Is Your Words.” He suggests “to keep reading fiction. Great fiction teaches you about words and writing and is riddled with psychological insight.” This is why I continue reading fiction voraciously throughout my life. It helps me find clarity in my work.

The silver lining in my dissertation process was translating a collection of short stories by Richard Brautigan. Imagine writing The Revenge of the Lawn in Italian. That's what it was like to interpret his work: deconstructing the ideas and mood to understand where he was coming from in each story, how he used language and metaphors, then connecting the characters' scenes to an Italian sensibility.

This is the type of work you do when you're a strategist: you interpret what's going onsurveying processes and observing situations, interviewing leadersthen translate it into insights.

 

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 mean. But it's not only the classics. As a cultural translator, I continue to appreciate the limitations of moving from one context to another. If you're not careful, you lose nuance. The difference between precaution and preserving does matter (it's a fun story.)

Yes, translation apps can help. But when they get it wrong, it's by miles. The human brain is still far and above more skilled at transferring meaning based on psychological nuance.

 

When you start reading fiction, you may

find affinity for a particular genre.

I have a short list of timeless books you could consider, if this is your cup of espresso:

Legacy_AlanJudd Legacy by Alan Judd.

I always liked a good spy novel, and this didn't disappoint me. In fact, I still remember the characters and plot vividly 15 years after reading it. From the choices of names (genius) to the plot twists, it kept my interest throughout.

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. 

Us_pillars_of_the_earth_tie_in_2010

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

Maybe because of my fascination with medieval history, I loved the plot. 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 A Prayer for Owen Meany 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-cover Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse.

I read this one in both Italian and German [image above]. 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.  

 

At some point in my reading history,

I noticed a pattern: I was reading a lot,

especially European authors,

but little to no books written by women.

So I got curious and started researching women mystery writers.

Of course, everyone knows Agatha Christie. She was my serial reading addiction and companion on every vacation in Cervia. I read at the tune of 3 books per week. I could be writing about many novels, but I'll add three series that are especially satisfying.

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.

Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope and Shetland Island series were also adapted as successful movies for television with an amazing cast. Vera, and Shetland improve on the characters by bringing them to life in the style and period of the novels. I'm binge-watching them right now.

Reading the books doesn't spoil the television series and vice versa. Win/win.

Finally, if you're curious about archeology, Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series is excellent.

 

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 headyou 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. This is also useful as you execute your strategy. Because it keeps you in learning mode, curious about the next move by the other party.

 

Social interaction and story engagement

Storytelling is a form of escapism, and collaborating on writing a story can be a fun way to play a game. To put it with Plato, you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Maybe. But I still believe in the power of conversation.

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.

This week I'm sharing resources on media production, media distribution, and community impact. Subscribe here to join the conversation.

Did I mention that the ability to develop characters can help you understand the proper use of personas?

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If you're interested in writing fiction, Janet Burroway's guide to narrative craft comes highly recommended.

I was surprised to learn that others have engaged with writing a story, though I did it via snail mail. Before blogging, I actually used to love writing by hand. I still write work notes, birthday, thank you, and holiday paper cards by hand.

Do you read fiction? What are your favorite fiction books? Have you played a version of the building-a-story-together game?

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