As I learn how to write fiction, I'm trying to read a lot of it.
I'm thinking it might also behoove me to make a few notes on what I read, to help me remember what I learned and liked (or didn't). I'm going to try making those notes here, in front of god and everybody, because...well, it might be a motivator for actually taking the time to assemble my thoughts. Maybe it will spark some interesting discussions. Maybe I'll come back to them and look them over more often. We shall see.
I am going to keep it in very note-ish form. Sentence fragments, bullet points, etc.
Jumping right in then, with some things I learned from:
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- what the Biafran War was
- having more than one main character can a) work, b) be cool, c) can be confusing for the reader...but the reader can be OK with that
- watching things fall apart is interesting. horrifying, scary, sad, and yes, interesting too. a novel that goes from everything being sort of alright to everything being sort of horrible can really hook me and keep me reading. i wasn't dissatisfied with or put off by the continual downward spiral. and i don't think this is just because it's the kind of novel i'm writing. it worked because it felt so true.
- giving every character a chance to be human, to be wonderful and awful and usually just sort of something in the middle, makes me trust the author and open up more deeply to her story. and i mean every character. no one is saint or sinner here, and nuance emerges in even the most minor of players. it didn't feel forced or gimmicky, either. it feels like this is how Adichie sees the world.
- Chimamanda is perhaps one of the most awesome names in the universe, and i may need to use it to name a future pet or child. another may need to be named Ngozi.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
- dialogue tags ('he said,' 'she said,') are almost entirely unnecessary
- never using dialogue tags or other dialogue punctuation can be confusing for the reader...and sometimes this reader was sort of annoyed by it. i'd rather not spend my time counting lines to figure out who is speaking.
- McCarthy's men are weirdly non-verbal and emotionally unexpressive, and are perhaps a different species from me.
- description can be something to delight in, something to play in, something to luxuriate in. i'm afraid of over-describing, because it seems like such a newbie or hackish thing to do. but damn, reading good description is a joy. i have a feeling that McCarthy loves writing it as much as i loved reading it. i also have a feeling that's this is why it works so well. when he does it, he surrenders into and really lets himself go. or at least it feels that way. the results are some of the most magical portions of the book, at least to me.
- another favorite bit: when, toward the end of the book, John Grady recounts the entire story that he's spent the last couple hundred pages living in about three paragraphs to some attentive, helpful mexican kids. i liked this because it reminded me of telling parts of my own life story to various kids i met in peru and ecuador. and i liked it because i was impressed with McCarthy's ability to recap his whole action-packed novel so succinctly through his main character. it almost seemed like McCarthy was saying, "you think i'm economical with my words? listen to this guy!"
- McCarthy seems to speak very good spanish.
I learned more than these things through both of these books, but that's enough for now.