This is my third challenge.
You’ve tried to enter the world of people not like you. You’ve tried writing in different mediums from your norm. Now, I’m asking you to try to engage with stories that you may have never encountered before.
All of us have our favourite types of books and movies. Some of us read everything by a particular author, others focus on a genre. Some will see everything that stars a favourite actor, or a film made by a particular director. There are Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans, and fans who love a great love story or a western. Overall, people who watch TV or movies tend to be more willing to step outside their genre zone and try something else. After all, watching something is often a social exercise. A man who loves action films will indulge his wife or girlfriend if she wants to watch a film noir or a comedy, and vice versa.
However, reading is a solitary pursuit and we don’t have to please anyone but ourselves. As a result, many of us tend to read the same sort of thing over and over again.
If you are what you eat, isn’t it fair to say you are also what you read and watch? How’s your fiction diet? Maybe you would improve your mental and emotional health by a more balanced intake of films and books. For writers, different stories, whether they’re filmed or in book format, can teach a lot about narrative, character, and how to engage your audience, be he viewer or reader.
Let’s consider how you can vary your taste in movies:
Try a different genre
If you like action / adventure, try a comedy. If you’re grounded in contemporary tales, try something historical. Check out fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance. You may find that the elements you like in one genre–heroism, for instance–works as well in a western as it does in a science fiction film. If your science fiction passion longs for smart terminology and technobabble, try political or medical thrillers. No one does babble better than politicians and doctors.
If you aren’t sure what it is you like about a specific genre, it would be a good idea to think about it. Checking other types of films and books can help you understand the elements in fiction that draw you.
Change your nationality
If you only watch British or American films, look for something French or German. If you really break out in hives at the thought of subtitles, at least try something Australian or Irish. Getting a feel for different cultures, especially when the difference is subtle, can be fascinating.
Go with the classics
If you’ve never tried black and white films, start there. Try film noir, or Hitchcock, or Billy Wilder. Go to IMDb and find an actor from the golden age of cinema and see what you think of their work. Films are considered classics for a reason. How can you not love Singing in the Rain, or Casablanca. Don’t take my word for it, check them out for yourself.
Don’t just watch. Analyse. If you really hate Apocalypse Now, try to figure out the reason. If you love Laurel and Hardy but not the Three Stoogies, ask yourself why. Get used to analysing the things you enjoy and, perhaps even more importantly, what you don’t like.
Don’t forget books
As with films, try a different genre. If you’ve never read a western, then why not check one out? What about fantasy? You know genres have sub-genres, right? Maybe the whole high elves and noble quest thing isn’t for you, but how about an urban version? Jim Butcher’s tales of a PI wizard in modern Chicago, for instance (the Harry Dresden series). Or anything by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. Then there are the cross-over genres: Science fiction mystery, for instance, or horror romance.
Change your nationality. Like films, books come from all parts of the globe. If you only read American or English novelists, you might be intrigued by French or Italian authors. Yes, you’ll have to read translations, unless you’re multi-lingual, but you will still find much to love in these novels.And even if you only have a smattering of German, for instance, trying to translate just one paragraph of Kafka will teach you an enormous amount about sentence structure.
Read the classics. You don’t have to start with Moby Dick or War and Peace, but there are plenty of slender classical novels around. Try collections of short stories from around the globe. Read the classics of your favourite genre. If you love horror, read Dracula. If you’re a mystery fan, try Conan Doyle or Sayers or Christie. Better yet, read all of them.
Don’t just read; analyse. If something doesn’t work for you, try to figure out what it is. See if you can apply what you’ve learned to your own work.
Just because something is a classic, doesn’t mean you’re going to love it. It’s OK to hate Jane Austen…Sob! Say it ain’t so! I like some Dickens but I can’t stand Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. I can tell you why, though. You may not agree with my reasons; you may cite his brilliant characterizations and sense of place, but I’ll sneer at the cheap sentimentality and coincidence-laden plot.
What are your favourites? Who do you think is over-rated? What genre (film or book) surprised you and why? Let me know.