The motivation to write this post struck me while listening to season one of a Podcast called Serial. It’s part of This American Life about the case of Adnan Syed’s innocence or guilt of being a killer. He’s been in jail since 1999. My boss at work put me on to it, said it was really good. I’m over halfway through, and I’m entirely encapsulated. My picking up on Podcasts follows a trend of listening to stories rather than just reading them. Really, I think there’s something there. I think there’s a loophole in the advice given by all of the writers I look up to (Jo Rowling, Stephen King to name a few). That advice tells us to read as much as we can in order to know the good writing from the bad. The thing is, they’re not too specific on the method of reading or what category of literature to enjoy. For me, as long as I’m exposing myself to stories, I’m doing my homework to being a better writer. Books aren’t the only medium that tell stories and let people escape and learn to live better lives from beloved fictional characters.
I’m sure this advice is nothing new . . . for anyone. Even if you aren’t a storyteller, logic informs us that to get better at something you have to practice it. Am I saying artists have to be just as assiduous as athletes or students? Yes! Natural talent in anything will only get someone so far. What is more, you have to want to practice. Will it get hard, monotonous, even regrettable at some points? Again, yes! Rarely does something productive come out of laziness.
Do artists in general have more to go off of than athletes and students? I think, yes. Athletes may have other sports to keep them fresh in their off-season; students may have other subjects to aid in their specialty (math helps physicists for example). But for artists (let’s say writers) have our entire community to feed off of. There aren’t just books for us to research. There’s comic books, film or stage scripts, Internet content, magazine articles, even Audiobooks and Podcasts. Even then, I probably missed a few examples of the ways writers can do their homework. So you see I’m still reading, which was Jo and Steve’s advice in the first place, I’m just using the resources I have to look at storytelling from every possible angle.
Serial‘s approach to this case and the narrator (Sarah Kanning) trapped me in the investigation of the truth for Adnan. Hearing the people Sarah interviewed, their stories, what they thought, brought a whole new interpretation of how I can use dialogue to express character motivation and background. I wouldn’t have learned this by just reading books. Similarly, the minimal phrasing in comic book speech-bubbles shows me just how little it takes to caption fantastic stories. Do you see where I’m getting at?
The idea for this post came from me listening to Serial, opening up more and more comic books, from branching out to explore just how many methods of storytelling are out there. Still there are some things, like the subtle nuances in style and pacing, that can only be gleaned from books. Is it still about reading? If reading means the study of life and conflict, of exposing one’s self to lives and cultures foreign to their own, of empathizing and finding things to relate to in total strangers, then yes. It is. Because in the end, it’s still about reading.