Steal from the best

That was supposedly Milton Berle’s advice about ripping off other comics’ jokes. It’s good advice for when a story gets stuck.
The first of my unpublished novels (I think I’m up to seven) was sword and sorcery. As I struggled with the fight scenes, I’d often read Conan stories, just to get a sense of how to infuse the action with energy and intensity. I didn’t have the perception to really analyze other writers well, but I think it helped.
More recently, when I wrote Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Clown, I decided to write it in the style of The Approach to Al-Mutasim, a short story by the great writer Jorgé Luis Borges—that is, as a book review of someone else’s novel.
After the first draft or two, it became obvious the story needed something more. So I went back and reread the Borges story and noticed exactly how he worked it, then modeled mine on his (I’ll go into this in more detail when my story is published).
Then, yesterday, I was working on The Helping Hand of Death, and noticing that, like a lot of my early drafts, it’s very talky. Far more talk than anything actually happening in fact.
So, as the story’s intended as a noir thriller/fantasy, I started to reflect on my recent readings of Raymond Chandler. Chandler has dialogue scenes, but his detectives run into much tougher obstacles—a blackjack to the head, a drug injection, a corrupt cop (which I do have, only I haven’t quite integrated him with the rest of the plot). And even though the mystery isn’t the main thing in Chandler, you can see his protagonists actually work at gathering clues and putting the case together.
I think if I use that as a template (now that I know the Who and the Why of the murder) the next draft will go a lot smoother.


Filed under Short Stories, Writing

2 responses to “Steal from the best

  1. Pingback: In which I create a new blog-post category « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Story Behind the Story: Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Clown « Fraser Sherman's Blog

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