Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Among many other things, my husband has developed an interest in western movies. He's always liked a handful of them, but for some reason he's more focused on them than he has been in the past. Over winter break, we watched Rio Bravo, The Magnificent Seven, Silverado and Appaloosa. I've always liked Rio Bravo; it's one of my dad's favorite movies. I don't, however, usually like westerns in general. Nevertheless, as we were watching them, I started getting ideas for novels. Not so much westerns per se, but incorporating similar plot devices and such. After watching Rio Bravo for the umpeenth time, I wanted to recreate the character dynamic between Dean Martin and John Wayne's characters -- only in a fantasy setting. I could see them as hardened warriors or knights. For each movie we watched, something different influenced my thinking. Over the weekend I saw War Horse and wanted to write a fantasy based on World War I. All of this in the midst of trying to do a massive rewrite for a new YA novel I've written. It made me realize how susceptible I am to just about everything, and how important it is for me to stay focused.

My major influence, of course, is other novels. I tend to absorb the writing style of whatever author I'm reading at the time, and I can see it in my writing. I had just finished a book a few years ago when I read an Updike novel. I realized how bare bones my novel was in comparison, and went back and added some of the best passages in the entire novel because of Updike. Contrastingly, if I'm reading a YA novel for instance, I tend to skimp on description or flowery writing because I'm influenced by that.

Clearly I need to keep myself in line, so I've developed a rule I try to stick by as often as possible. I try not to read anything that doesn't teach, influence or enhance me in some way. The better the book is that I'm reading, the better my writing is. Over the years I've gone from reading mainstream to enjoying instead John Irving, John Updike, Thomas Hardy, Charlotte Bronte, Graham Greene, Ian McEwan and Michael Chabon. To me, these are some of the top masters of "literary" faire, and fifteen years ago I would have groaned if someone told me I'd be reading them like crazy. I had the misconception that they were stuffy and droll, when quite the opposite is true. It's difficult now to go back and read some of my old favorites as they make me cringe. It does, however, make me realize how far I've come as a writer.

As a New Year's resolution, try expanding your book collection. Read something that's considered literary or a classic (or both), and see if it grabs you. More importantly, see if it doesn't influence your writing, and in a good way. There's always going to be someone out there who can teach us something about writing. It might as well be a fun lesson!

Ashley J. Barnard
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Your advice is right on for expanding our skills. Two more writers that can enhance your style and your vocabulary are Pat Conroy and Annie Prouix SP?) I'm about to read her latest:The Accordian Crimes, recommended to me by a journalist friend.

Ashley J. Barnard said...

Thanks, Julie! I do like Annie, and I'll give Pat Conroy a chance. ; )

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

If you haven't seen the movies, start with eiher his Beaches or Conrak