I jump into worlds that I know little or nothing about and write about them like I've lived in them all my life.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

IWSG post for July - Why do we write what we write?

Hello fellow IWSG bloggers!

This month I'm thinking about how we choose what we write--genre? category? Do we stay with one kind of writing where we feel secure, or do we take risks, or is writing risk enough?

Do we write to entertain, to inform, or to reflect, or something else? Do we want to entertain readers and leave it at that? Or do we want to entertain while weaving our story around an issue? An example, Jodi Picoult, who manages to hit on a throbbing nerve in society, puts her research team to work, then crafts a weighty contemporary novel to challenge readers. (I have unfinished novels that tackle issues such as whale slaughter, Afghanistan and rape, but I don't have Jodi's research team, so progress is a little slow, lol! One day...)

I confess I read about a hundred books in a year (sleep is over rated), and my tastes are eclectic. But my favourite kind of book in whatever genre is one that challenges me, one that exposes an issue, maybe not ripping open Pandora's Box, but one that makes me think. There are a wealth of writers who do just that--Jodi Picoult (current issues), Paulo Coelho (spirituality), Emma Donoghue (female sex slaves), Caroline Overington (families ruined through Social Services), John Green (living with a terminal illness) -- and many, many more -- please add to the list in comments!

I just finished a book that left me breathless. I could hardly talk for the day or so that it took me to immerse myself in A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik. This book is haunting and haunted. It left me staring into space when I finished; that indicates the sheer power of this story. A story that Maksik was confident enough to write, to show us that bad things happen to good people and good people either survive or they don't. It deals with many issues, but a major focus is homelessness.

The narrator, Jacqueline, is a young girl who has escaped from the horrors of war in Sierra Leone. On a holiday island in the Aegean Sea she fends off starvation. She builds a home of sorts in a cave overlooking the ocean, balancing the will to live with the crushing guilt of surviving when so many didn't.

Here is a small excerpt which invites us to consider food from a homeless person's POV:
"Jacqueline hadn't eaten since the flattened chocolate bar she'd found on the step of the pharmacy. God's will, her mother said. The fortune of finding food when it was most needed just when she didn't think she could stay upright any longer, here was food.
She watched the man slicing meat...could see him painting the bread with oil. There were tomatoes and onions. She watched him roll and wrap them with wax paper, and hand them across the counter with cans of Coca Cola. The smell of the meat, the smell of thyme and the grilling bread as it blew.
She watched the tourists waiting in line. She watched the bits of meat falling to the ground, the sandwiches thrown away half eaten. What it took for her not to stand up and cross the square and dig for food.
But she was not beyond pride, so instead she ate the chocolate bar and tried to appear happy and bored.
You must not appear desperate."

Thanks to the team at IWSG. Go here to read more posts for IWSG.

Meanwhile, please note the new prompt for Write...Edit...Publish -- A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. Use a favourite picture as a writing prompt. You can sign up here in my right-hand sidebar or visit WEP.





62 comments:

  1. I'll read some non-fiction now and then, but admit I like my fiction to be mindless fun.

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    1. Oh Alex, I will quote that in the future!

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  2. Blogger has been playing havoc with my comments. I wrote a long one just now that disappeared. :( To recap, good snippet that tells me we remember the things that are taught to us early in life.

    Painful stories are hard to write. I write them because a similar tale might have struck a chord with me.

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    1. Joy, I enjoy your books because they're about characters with issues...

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  3. What weighty questions, Denise :) I think twenty writers will give you twenty different answers. So much about the writing world is intensely personal, we are each on our own journey for our own reasons.

    For myself, I usually read to be entertained but also to be transported to worlds beyond my everyday experience. That is why sci-fi and fantasy are my staples, but also historical fiction that immerses the reader in past cultures, or thrillers that place me in the mind of a spy or assassin.

    And I write to invite readers into my own twisted mind - if they dare :)

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    1. A good mix, Botanist. Twisted mind---you???

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  4. I like non-fiction in better understanding the eras in which I write or the psychology within ourselves. I read mysteries, SF, and fantasy, of course. I try to stay away from novels stemming from the headlines. I can get depressed for free. Like Alex, I like to read to lift my spirits, but also to reflect on what it means to live fully. Great post as always!

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    1. Sometimes in fiction issues can be examined even more deeply than non-fiction, but I get that some people just want to be entertained. That's not enough for me.

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  5. I just write away no matter what comes out, will read almost anything once too.

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  6. I'll read most things but prefer not to go to the heavy issues. My preference is escapism.

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  7. It depends on what story I'm writing. I do research as I go and I like to occasionally try something new. I mostly read scifi, mystery, and nonfiction and fiction about Paris or history. Next on TBR is Gregg Allman's book, My Cross to Bear. Hubs suggested it, so its not my usual.

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    1. You sound like you have eclectic tastes too, D.G. Haven't read that one of Allman's yet. Must.

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  8. "my favourite kind of book in whatever genre is one that challenges me, one that exposes an issue,"

    We think alike Denise. I'm not always sure what genre I want to write in, and I certainly can't pick a favorite to read in, but I know what kinds of stories grab me, in any genre, and it is usually strong characters with issues to resolve and natural settings/culture.

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  9. I'll read almost anything - and write mostly about travel, because I spend as much time as I can trotting round the world.

    Maybe it's different for people who are shaped by the big publishing companies to write books within a certain genre or subject, to meet the expectations of readers. One of the great things about writing independently is being able to be diverse, in our reading - and in our writing!

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  10. Having spent thirty years teaching primary, it followed that I should write for children. But I think I have been avoiding writing for grown-ups, too personal.

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  11. I read all over the map too but I prefer escapism and that is what I prefer to write too, though I have written some realism pieces.

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    1. Escapism is why a lot of people read or watch tv.

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  12. Most of what I've read in the past few years has been non-fiction, but I don't think any of it was on a challenging issue. Mostly marketing and self-help books.

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    1. Everyone has different tastes. I always have some non fiction on the go.

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  13. I read all types of fiction but I've meant to read more nonfiction this year and it hasn't happened yet.

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  14. 100 books a year is quite impressive. I've been slacking off while writing and promoting my own books, but this summer I'm back into reading tons. A lovely way to spend the summer.

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    1. True. Sometimes a cozy fire lures me to read for hours. It's just I love outside so much that I look forward to those reading days out of doors.

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  15. After reading that excerpt, I can see why the book captured you. Such vivid description. That's a ton of reading, Denise! Go You!!

    Elsie

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    1. Glad you responded to the excerpt Elsie.

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  16. I read 101 books last year but it was a push toward the end. For 2014, I'm aiming for 85. :)

    I loved ME BEFORE YOU by JoJo Moyes - lots to think about re what is a life, what is living etc. LEFT NEGLECTED and STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova, too. Oh, and recently BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman creeped me out and made me think about survival.

    Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

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    1. Thanks for the names of those books. I have a few Lisa Genova's to read.

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    2. I have some Lisa Genova's to finish...

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  17. Just finished Jodi Picoult's Perfect Match. Not my favorite of hers, but the book definitely dealt with some important issues.

    IMO, reading only the genre one writes is a huge mistake and why so little originality exists in many genre-specific works. We shouldn't try to avoid issues in our work or in our reading. Even when subtle, every good story has a theme. Otherwise it's only plot: A followed by B followed by C followed by an HEA.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Not all Jodi Picoult's are equal. Some actually annoy me, but always issues to think about.

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  18. That is a thought provoking extract. I wish I had the time to read 100 books a year, I don't get to sit down and read as often as I'd like.

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    1. You don't have to sit down Laura...I've learnt it's best not to read and drive through, lol.

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  19. I write in whatever genre I get an idea for. And I read whatever book sounds good regardless of the genre. :)

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    1. Our reading choices are subjective which is how it should be.

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  20. Ok, where is my comment from yesterday? Blogger, you bad, bad...you ate it up!

    I read a lot as you know Denise, but prefer light reading!

    Nas

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    1. Yes I know Nas. Thanks for all the light reading you suggest for me.

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    2. I've been losing comments everywhere lately!

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  21. I write in the genre that the story hits me in. I hate thinking I can't dabble.

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  22. I love to dabble in several different genres. I have more than a few WIPs that are in different genres. I usually write in whatever genre feels write for that moment. I do tend to read mostly fantasy or magical realism but I'm not above reading something else if it grabs me :)

    Take care!
    Jen

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  23. I just posted for IWSG ... yes, a little late. ;)

    I am one of those who writes in different genres. I don't do it for anyone else, but just because I enjoy it myself.

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    1. Trish, i believe in writing the book I want to read, so I'm with you.

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  24. I started my writing journey thinking I would write women's fiction but soon found I was much more suited to MG! When I fancy a change I tend to opt for short stories and have explored different genres and styles through this medium.

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    1. Sometimes it takes a while to see what works for us.

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  25. I'm an omnivore when it comes to reading. I tend to enjoy books that have something more to say than just what's going on in the surface plot, though. Still, my guilty pleasure is to grab a romance novel every now and then for the escapism. :D

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    1. We all need our guilty pleasures. Nothing like a romance to make you smile.

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  26. Hi Denise .. I don't read much .. but intend to rectify that - I buy books as though they're going out of fashion .. mostly books that will educate me about history I guess, reference books too ..

    From my Shipwreck post - south Aus ... I found out Richard Flanagan had written about Gould's Book of Fish: a novel in 12 fish .. found on your southern shores ..

    Then Matt Luedke (I think) mentioned about Wes Weston's book "Watermelon is life" .. invaluable lessons from teaching English abroad - this is set in Namibia .. and as I've been there really interested me ..

    And I buy museum books .. on the Vikings - posts to follow, on art etc etc and I do research (vaguely) many subjects to write about .. I'm not intellectual .. just make things interesting for me and you as readers ..

    Mix and match - but I really now do hate reading light stuff .. I like to learn ..

    I have just finished Roald Dahl's "Boy" that was a quick read .. and rang a few bells about public school ... and life after WW1 and English life then too .. I think he got the sweet prices wrong - they seemed more appropriate to after WW2 ... still it evoked memories ...

    Cheers and enjoy your winter reading .. Hilary

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  27. We all like to read what you have to say. History is very alluring.

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  28. Wow, a team to do research? I didn't even know that was possible.

    100 books a year? Very impressive. I used to read more, but it's harder when I take classes.

    I write for so many reasons.

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  29. Hey Denise,

    Oops and yes, finally, I've arrived with one of my um, highly collectable comments :)

    I have no idea how you manage to read so many books. I spend so much time reading awesome blogs like yours, that I have little time left over. The time left over is spent signing autographs for my millions of adoring fans.

    Having worked with the homeless, the rough sleepers, I relate to the story. The one feature so admired by such desperate souls is their dignity would not be defeated.

    Personally, I write for therapy and hopefully, shared therapy. I never stick to one genre. If in doubt, Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar takes over.

    All the best, Denise.

    Gary :)

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    1. Thanks for your collectable comment Gary and Penny.

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  30. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  31. What an interesting post. I think it is awesome that you read so many books a year and that they tend to focus on an area or genre you are struggling with. Thinking about that makes me want to analyze my reading habits! :)
    ~Jess

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