No matter where I look for writing advice, I always find one thing in common: they all tell me to read, read, and read some more.
I've always understood it, on some levels. But now that I'm three books and several significant stories into my writing career, I really get it.
When you read, it sometimes happens that you get yourself so immersed in a world or three, they become a part of your own mind, your own stories to tell. And even though this immersion can sometimes be disruptive, well, it's still a good thing.
Take last night, for example. I was reading in bed. I found myself suddenly hanging out in New England, in a creepy old house near the ocean. I could smell the salt air, see the birds, hear the water crashing. When it snowed, I shivered in my bed.
I'm reading Locke & Key again, you see. (Read it...you'll thank me.) Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez can pull me into their world in a heartbeat, and keep me hanging on for every word. Their freaky little world of magical (and frightening) keys has depth. Sight, sound, touch...it's totally creepy, and fun.
But setting the book down is a jarring experience.
Oh, you mean I'm in my room? How'd I get here? From there? What happened?
I had some crazy dreams last night.
I also recently read two books by sci-fi author John Scalzi, almost back-to-back: Old Man's War and then The Ghost Brigades. Those books are fully immersive; it's hard to leave their futuristic, brutal world behind, and I'm almost aching to get started on the third in that series.
All of these books keep showing up in my writing now, in odd ways.
Hill and Rodriquez are teaching me tons about tone and setting; I see it coming through in my own descriptions of an imagined future of New York City.
Then, while reading Old Man's War, I realized that an author can enable any crazy plot point they dream up, so long as they have some semi-reasonable science to back it up. In Old Man's War, it's nano-bots, which can be used by genetically engineered soldiers in the future to do almost anything Scalzi needs them to do.
Need to stop bullets? Sure, use some nano-bots.
Need a fountain of youth? Nano-bots are your answer there, too.
This knowledge came to my rescue while I've been stuck on my Frankenstein girl story; I have a plot point that I know is a stretch...but now I know I just need to find my nano-bot equivalent that makes it somehow plausible. (Note: not possible. Just plausible.)
Also, recently when I was working on a short story about telepaths (clearly my writing is NOT based in reality these days), I had an image fly into my head. I pictured one telepath pushing their feelings, their emotions, their very being over to another.
This was exactly what I needed for my story.
The origin of the idea? It came from The Ghost Brigades. I made it my own, to be sure, and it looks a lot different in my story than it does in Scalzi's concept of "integration" between his soldiers.
Would I have gotten there on my own, had I not been reading Scalzi? Maybe. But maybe not, you know?
So yeah. If you want to write, you have to read. Immerse yourselves in other worlds. Learn them. Live inside them for a while, however temporary.
There's no other way to see all the possibilities fiction has to offer.