"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wherein I discuss Nonfiction for a tick

I got no excuses. Except for the plenty of reasons I have to continue to neglect my blog. But it's still October. Two posts for the month ain't bad.

To the point, I've been reading a bunch of nonfiction lately. Partly for work. Partly for fun. And I don't say that lightly. I'm not in the habit of reading nonfiction for fun. If I'm looking for fun and can't get to the mini-golf course, I go in for the fiction reading. Which goes to show these must be some extra-superb books, right?

Let's begin with a book I haven't even finished yet, but can't wait to explain to people. How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer purports that soccer effects everything from small communities to society at large, from ganglords in war-torn Bosnia to political divisiveness in America. At least those are the two chapters I've read so far.

I picked it up and read the last chapter first because it was about the United States and how when soccer became a popular children's recreation in the seventies, it was basically a hippie construction, an extension of the sixties, a contrast to the militarism of Pee-Wee football and the competitiveness of Little League baseball and was viewed as anti-American. Thus, red states and blue states can be identified by how many people let their kids play soccer. Fun, right?

Fascinated, I returned to the first chapter which explains how throughout the nineties a man gained Serbian national acclaim due to his leading an army of soccer hooligans in defense of Slobadon Milosovic. Apparently, it's common practice for a soccer club in Europe to recruit and hire groups of fans to be the team's official hooligans. And apparently, in what started as Yugoslavia, these hooligans did more than just taunt fans of the other team. One psycho criminal was given charge of the Red Star fans and led them to commit atrocities against Muslims and Croatians during their war. After reading this, I stifled my innocent giggle at being labeled "Unamerican" because I play soccer. I'm a little embarrassed for my sport. But certainly fascinated by this book.

Over the summer, I read the book The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs. This book chronicles his attempt to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in about a year. Jacobs published the book in 2005, and I figure he must have started his quest just as Wikipedia was gaining traction online. He discusses reading CD-ROM versions of the Encyclopedia, but unfortunately doesn't discuss what impact online fonts of information have done to the necessity of the Britannica.

What was most interesting to me was something I realized early on in my reading. Jacobs formats his book alphabetically, giving his own versions of a chosen few encyclopedia entries while incorporating a memoir of his experience. He cleverly uses a current encyclopedia entry to be able to tell a story about what is going on in his life at the time he read it. For instance, he uses the entry on "vital fluid" to tell his story about going on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and crapping out at 1,000 dollars. So, basically, Jacobs spent his days reading, then writing about what he read as he made progress. Then it became a bestselling book. And I just kept thinking. I read. I write. Where's my bestselling book?

These next two books are crazy cool. But I think you have to be a total nerd to think so. Or an English teacher. (Go ahead. Make the joke. I'll wait.) Thomas C. Foster has written two books about reading called How to Read Literature Like a Professor and How to Read Novels Like a Professor. The second is really just a continuation of the first, but he only uses novels as examples instead of including poetry or drama like he does in the first book.

Anyone who loves reading should read these books. Foster shows you what you should be looking for to help you construct a deeper meaning from a text. He explains why an author might make certain decisions and use certain language. He explains the necessity of understanding allusions and symbols and choices of point of view and story structure.

I've studied and taught literature for most of my adult life, and this is the best, most succinct, most clear and easy to comprehend text I've read on the subject. I find it so enlightening, I've decided this is the new summer reading for my IB Literature class. The kids will love it.

The books show you how to be a better reader, but I've tried to incorporate some of the ideas into my own writing. A character totem here, another symbol there. Foster will have to use author Brent Wescott as a brilliant example in his next book, right?

Now, because I was stuck in my latest work in progress, I picked up a book called Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. A successful novelist I met at a conference in September recommended it to me. It's a book about screenwriting, but she said it was the best help to her for plotting stories that she's ever read. And it's certainly helpful. If you're a screenwriter and you don't do what he says about structuring your story, you're likely screwed. Snyder outlines the three acts of a film and shows you how to outline your story beat by beat. But my concern is as a novelist, not a screenwriter. I can see the benefit of following the structure for story, but I can think of too many novels that don't. Too many great novels I've read that don't follow traditional structure. I'm likely to use Snyder's suggestions to get out of my WIP rut, but the rebel inside of me will likely make it difficult. Tradition, conformity, structure. Bah. I can do it however I want, right? If only the publishing industry thought the same.

Lastly, I will just mention that in tandem with Save the Cat, I have begun reading The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, which uses Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces as its guide through story, myths, and archetypes. Just one more way to add some depth to my stories and make me a genius. Right?

Anyone?

Anyone?

14 comments:

  1. of course you're a genius, Brent. I am, too. All writers are. Right?

    Hugs and chocolate,
    Shelly

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    1. Either that or completely delusional. :)

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  2. Interesting choices. I don't read too much non-fiction and really need to expand on that. FYI : my daughters AP lit class had the "Read literature" book as suggested summer reading this year. It wasn't required, but was intended to help them with the rest of their work.

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    1. My daughter actually read it over the summer for her AP Lit class. I knew about the book before then, but her reading it got me interested enough to read it myself. It's really perfect for AP or IB Lit classes.

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  3. For a "tick"?? Will we be doing that with a spot of tea? ;D

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  4. I've never been a huge soccer fan, but then I've never been a huge sports fan in general. Still, I've never understood the antagonism and hostility that people have towards soccer. The mere mention of it causes some of them to foam at the mouth like a rabid dog. It's quite a sight.

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    1. I don't follow sports much, either, but every once in a while I'll read or hear from a sports writer who vehemently hates soccer. They're perfectly fine talking about athleticism in car racing or something, but they can't tolerate soccer. I don't get it.

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  5. I might have to check out that Save the Cat book. From the title, I assume it gives that age old advice about the importance of conflict and peril in a story. Still, it's always nice to hear someone explain it in a fresh way.

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    1. The Save the Cat phrase is in reference to making sure your character does something worth liking. Even if he's a big jerk, if he saves the cat from the fire or something, then you can follow him to whatever his goal is. A good idea.

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  6. I haven't read a few of these writing books. Shame on me! Thanks for the reviews. I'm going to go get the ones I don't have yet. I think my hubby would like the soccer one...

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    1. Do I really have nearly two-month-old comments I never responded to? Sorry, I suck at blogging.

      I'm just finishing the soccer book, and despite the author's professed love of the game, it doesn't make international soccer look good. Corruption, violence, unsportsmanlike conduct, all because of soccer. Yikes.

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  7. I always get affronted when I read a book on writing. "Well, I don't do that! Everybody else does that! I want to be different!"

    I suppose that's why I have never sold anything I wrote, huh?

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    1. Hey, rev. Thanks for sticking with me even when I fail at blogging.

      The more I read about writing, the more I realize that being different can only get you so far. You have more opportunity if you want to follow the rules. At least generally. Otherwise, you need a lot of luck. I don't tend to have that.

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