24 July 2009

Reading as Inspiration

Reading a good book is often good inspiration for my writing. Not because I glean plot or character ideas, but because in reading a well-crafted story, I'm encouraged to craft my own just as well, if not better. I always want to improve my technique and skill, to tell my stories in the best way possible, to touch my readers with what I write, be that through humor, drama, romance, etc.  I like being able to read a good book and enjoy it not just for its entertainment value, but its educational value.

In the past week, I've devoured 3 Laurell K. Hamilton books.  And I do mean devoured.  I first picked up one of her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels a few months ago, to research erotic elements in fiction.  It was one of the later books in the series, and from what I've read since then, it seems the sexual content in the later books is much more explicit than the first few.  But since I picked up that first book, I've been going back for more.  I read another.  Then I decided to go back to the beginning to see how the series started.  My library doesn't have all the books in the series, so I'm trying to read the ones it does have in the most chronological order possible.  Each one never fails to fascinate me.

Her research is evident in every book.  From the types of guns Anita likes to use, to the science of vampirism and lycanthropy, to the myth and folklore of necromancy and more, it's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into each book.  She's also created such a vast and varied cast of characters, and yet they all come alive.  The bad guys are terrifying, the good guys are valiant and honorable, plus a whole host of ranges in between.  Sometimes the line is blurred between the good guys and the bad guys.  Sometimes you find yourself identifying with some trait in a character that Anita dislikes, and disagreeing with something Anita says or does, which ups the ante even more. 

There's great imagination in her alternate reality where vampires, shapeshifters and humans all coexist.  Anita raises the dead and kills vampires for a living.  But while you might think her books are purely fantasy, or action, there's always so much more.  Romance, eroticism, moral debates, personal crises.  Laurell K. Hamilton weaves all of this into every book.  One minute Anita's hot on the trail of some preternatural serial killer that's ripping people to shreds, and the next minute she's debating the state of her psyche and mental health as a result of the kind of work she does.  She struggles with the men in her life, with love and sex and morals, religion, violence, keeping those she loves safe.  She's cynical and smart-mouthed, funny, smart, sexy, and yet flawed in her own way.

Now THAT is the kind of book I'd like to write.  Granted, Hamilton has a few flaws, a few things that I don't love quite as much.  Like a slightly distracting tendency to repeat words in close proximity, or to overuse a certain word or turn of phrase.  And I think her dialogue can lean heavily toward exposition at times, which I hate, but hey.  Perfection is a goal never attained, right?  But the blend of characterization, the complex emotional issues laced with the action and plot, it's all tantalizing.  Once I pick up one of her books, I'm loathe to put it down until I'm finished.

So the kind of inspiration I get from her isn't the kind that will make me run out and write a vampire novel.  It's the kind that has me searching for the right words to use, or ways to make my characters deeper and more complex, ways to draw the reader further into the story so they never want to put it down.  Here's hoping I succeed.

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