Reading for Creative Writing

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I sometimes find myself feeling apologetic for how much film and television I watch.  However, I am usually doing other things at the same time.  Years ago, when required to study and complete two semesters of French to satisfy the second language obligation for my undergraduate degree, I forced myself to study by bargaining that I was allowed to binge watch the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy at the same time, (12 seasons at the time).  I will admit now, however, I cannot concentrate on two things at once the way I used to.  I can have my latest binge-worthy series playing while I cook dinner, clean house, and do laundry, even while I do a little light office work, but when it comes to reading, studying, and my own creative writing, yeah, I have to shut off the TV.

Recently I came across a second-year university course called Reading for Creative Writing with the University of Toronto here.  “This course will help students to see connections between their reading and their work as creative writers. They will read texts in a variety of literary and non-literary genres and consider the way that writers learn their craft from other writers. Practical assignments will encourage students to find creative ways to critique, imitate, speak to, and borrow responsibly from the work they read.”  This was incredibly validating for me.  I have always believed time spent reading, or as in my case above, watching stories unfold in film or on television, informs my ability to tell my own stories.  I absorb technique from other writers who write for the big and small screen, by watching their stories, brought to vivid life by the imagination and technique of the director, cinematographers, set designers, costume designers, and so many more, the list is literally as massive as the credits at the end of any film.

Whenever I start to think of narrative techniques used in television and film, I get excited about how stories told in pictures on the screen offer techniques a writer of mere words cannot use, for example, silence.  Sometimes television and film will use narrative voice-over to fill in the silence.  As a writer of words, of course, I understand this technique very well.  But television and film are visual mediums where the tools available transcend words and dialogue, and I love it when this is used to great effect.  A scene that comes to mind was in 1992’s The Bodyguard, where the character of Tony, (played expertly by Mike Starr), and Frank, (played just as expertly by Kevin Costner), get into a battle of wills over how to protect their client.  After a lengthy and intense scene of fierce hand to hand combat in the kitchen, where no words were spoken at all, Tony surrenders to Frank in action, by holding up his hands in submission and laying down the knife.  Frank says, “I don’t want to talk about this again.”

That was some seriously brilliant storytelling in the space between, using no words.

Anyhow, I learn from reading and watching stories told, either on the page or on the screen, therefore, I will not feel too guilty if the research for my next story comes in the form of watching the latest and greatest small screen offerings from one of the many screening services available to me today.


Filed under Writing

2 responses to “Reading for Creative Writing

  1. I love that there is a class that teaches us to learn from other storytellers. I learned a lot at Andrew Peterson’s Hutchmoot from both writers of fiction, non-fiction, music and art. The different techniques we borrow and imitate and weave into our own stories add a texture to our unique tales. I love the artist community.
    You well know how I weave the stories around me in pop culture into my blog and how it informs and enlightens my moods. So often songs stimulate my creative juices. Other times, I am inspired by poems, art and biographies. The love of learning is the fuel by which we build our creative flame. Keep burning, my friend.

  2. Tayッ

    Well said. I believe observing content that is created is the best way to learn for ourselves! It’s good to have a point of reference when creating. Thank you for sharing

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