Storytelling: Consume

Posted on June 8, 2011

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Whatever the medium for your story, you must consume that media.

For example, if you want to write, then you must also read. Yes, you should read work that you like, and analyze what you like and why. You should also just flat-out read for enjoyment. This is what your readers will experience when they read your work. Read for enjoyment because it puts you in touch with your audience.

That said, you do need to analyze what you consume. What do you like about it? Is there any consistency to what you like? What do you admire about it? How can your writing be more like it? I constantly strive to write more like Robert B Parker and Elmore Leonard, for example. I love what they do with simple sentences. The way they control rhythm and sentence length amazes me. They stick to simple, precise, vocabularies. I try to read something by one of them every month or so, just to remind myself what I’m striving to achieve.

You must also consume criticism and history. For example, if you love French New Wave cinema and you want to be a screenwriter, then you need to examine critiques of those movies. You also need to consume cinema history to understand the context that produced French New Wave. You must understand the elements that make up what you like. You must understand if those elements were popular, or which ones were. You must decide if any of those elements are still relevant today.

Going back to my example, I’m not going to write gritty crime dramas. I don’t know enough about that side of life, and I don’t want to go through what it would take to learn. I’m not going to emulate Elmore Leonard’s work. That said, the elements that I mentioned above are universal. Whatever I write about, that’s how I want to do it. Parker’s dialogue is quick and reflects each character’s agenda and thoughts. I wish I wrote dialogue as well as he did.

Consuming media tells you what’s popular with publishers today. Checking popularity lists (e.g., the New York Times Bestseller lists) tells you what sells. Consuming your chosen media keeps you in touch with your competition.You can see what they’re doing, and what they’re not. What they’re not doing is where you find opportunities for your storytelling.

So: Consume!

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Posted in: Self-Reference