by S.T. Cartledge
Today’s Tea House post is brought to you by Oolong tea. Most of the time I’m like your everyday tea drinker, a great way to start the day is with a good black tea, milk and sugar, nice and sweet. Irish Breakfast, preferably.
Oolong is not like that at all. It’s a traditional Chinese tea (Oolong meaning “Black Dragon”) which you drink just with the tea leaves brewed in hot water. I drink it usually on my own to help clear the mind and to warm the body up, especially gearing up for a late-night of writing/study. It’s an acquired taste, but I don’t think it’s nearly as overpowering as some green teas can be.
Today I would like to take your memories back to the Tea House post: An Exercise of Tastes. Spike stressed the importance of reading outside your own genre, trying new things and opening yourself up to the potential of new influences. I think this is extremely important and I cannot stress that enough. A few years ago when I discovered bizarro fiction I was also simultaneously discovering manga and anime. Within those genres, there are a billion different styles and sub-genres, influences, and nods to other genres.
There is no one novel which exists in and of itself in one single genre. Genre is sprawling, genre is uncontrollable, genre is ever expanding as the universe is ever-expanding. There are genres being written that don’t have a name yet. There are novels that are just mashups of many different genres. And there’s a genre for mashups, too. Genre is a type, a simplification for these beasts of imagination which often struggle to boil down to just one genre. Sure, there may be one main genre driving the aesthetics and style of a work, but within that, there might be romance, crime, noir, horror, whatever.
What I want you to do is stop thinking about genre here. Genre is the end-product. Genre is the classification. The description that readers use to identify with stories. When you read a book, think of the characters, plot, setting, the conflict/resolution. The point of view. The narrative arc. All the elements that an author goes through to piece their story together. All the things the author doesn’t want you to think about because their writing and editing were intended to mask all that. You should appreciate the skill involved when a writer seems to pull it off flawlessly. But you should still, as a writer, be able to break things down and analyse them in the reading.
Instead of asking:
Why is this character doing that? Why is this thing happening to that character?
You should ask:
What is the reason behind this character’s actions? What function/purpose does it have upon the overall narrative?
It should be easy for a writer to ask these questions while reading a book. It should come to some of you like second nature. The logic of narrative and storytelling, the pieces of the puzzle. You may not come up with all the answers, in fact, it would be strange if you could. Your answers may not be even remotely close to the truth. But the truth of why an author writes a book doesn’t matter. You’re probably familiar with the idea that once a book is published it becomes the property of its readers. They own it and they are responsible for pulling meaning from it, regardless of what the author intended. The only thing that matters is that you make your own logic.
Now, to take it one step further, take this logic to anywhere you see art, anywhere narratives are made. Watching a movie or TV show. Imagine the process behind the finished product. Imagine how the stories have translated from script to screen, or how the story on the screen may adapt to the page, not as a script, but as a story to be read not only by actors and filmmakers. How does the style translate? How do you capture the visuals in your writing? It doesn’t have to be film and TV. It could be theatre. If you want a challenge, try reading narratives into art and music. Video games. Stories are everywhere, waiting to be deconstructed and understood on various levels.
Whenever I try to discuss movies with people who just want to watch them for the entertainment value, they see it as stripping away the movie magic. Breaking the illusion. Taking them from the dream world and forcing them to look at the cogs and the gears. They think it ruins the movie. To writers, no matter what quality the film or book or play, there is value to be had. If you open up your inner critic to everything you watch and read and play and hear, there’s a lot to be learned. There’s not just the inspiration that comes from borrowing from other genres, but also the learning process of how that borrowing can be done in the first place.
In the end, it makes you appreciate the finished product even more.
S.T. Cartledge is the author of the 2012 New Bizarro Author Series book, House Hunter. In 2013, he graduated from Curtin University with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing (first-class honours). He loves bizarro, manga, anime, robots, dragons, wizards, heroes, monsters, dinosaurs, and any combination/mutation of these things.