New Year’s resolutions! We’ve all made them, we’ve all broken them, and sometimes we’ve even kept them.
The latter is the case when it comes to my 2017 resolution, which was to read more fiction.
I had been asked to join the Ascribe Writers group in the fall of 2016 and as I wrote in a previous blog post, I was pretty green to the world of fiction.
Working as an agricultural journalist, I am much more comfortable in the land of non-fiction. I always have been. But one of my early writing mentors once said “one of the best ways to be a strong writer is to be a strong reader” so with that in mind I aligned my 2017 goal with something that could improve my fiction writing process.
As we work our way into the eighth month of the year, I am somewhat shocked to realize I have actually stuck to my resolution and with that some lessons have been learned.
First off, I noticed I do in fact like reading fiction.
I was previously of the mind that a book had to be more of a learning tool than just a piece of enjoyment to get my attention.
I blame this on my constant desire to be a life long student.
Even after 24 years of schooling (yes, that’s how many years I went to school…in a row) I would go back tomorrow and get a Ph.D. if my life allowed for it.
I would read books like Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl or Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and feel good knowing I had exercised my brain and learned about the past or how to navigate the present.
My one guilty pleasure was celebrity autobiographies! Still in the non-fiction category but perhaps slightly lower on the hierarchy especially if the star did, or did not, work with a professional writer.
Keeping my resolution in mind, I ignored my impulse to read the new Sheryl Sandberg book and loaded myself down with recommendations from long time fiction lovers.
So far, I’ve read a lot of young adult, a few romance novels, and some coming-of-age works and I’ve truly enjoyed the process even if I didn’t always enjoy the book.
Reading fiction has taught me about subject and plot, mainly that fiction writers can literally make up anything they want.
Holy, obvious statement of the year but while non-fiction focuses on telling a story that has truly happened; fiction is a presentation of the author’s imagination.
On that note, non-fiction or historical writers have the endings already laid out for them but fiction writers get to make the ending up.
I don’t always like a happy ending à la modern day rom-com so I was thrilled when an author did not bring the two main characters together at the end! I found it daring and against society’s need for everything to be wrapped up in a nice little bow. I saw that an unhappy ending could still be a really good ending.
I learned the following about writing style.
Non-fiction pieces are often, although not always, told in first person and follow a chronological order from beginning to end. Fiction is not like that.
I read one book that had three narrators spread out across the pages! Some chapters were written in the voice of the lead female; some were written in the lead male’s voice; and others were a combination of both.
One of the books I read was presented in a series of emails and text messages between the two main characters and I loved it. It was so far away from the lead, nut, quote structure of the newspaper articles I write or the APA style of my thesis back in the day.
I still have five months to complete my 2017 New Year’s resolution and I am excited to continue the fiction-reading journey. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it will continue into 2018 and probably beyond.
I’ve come to see there is a whole new world of books out there and even if a book is not a textbook (yes, I have been known to read those for fun too) it can definitely teach some valuable lessons.