Thursday, August 27, 2015


Recently, my writer friend Tyler Dilts posted an attention grabbing comment on Facebook. In essence, Tyler had been asked what outside influences – other than literature – had been the most practical use to him as a fiction writer. His response contained four specific points…
Acting taught me about character development, subtext, beats, and dialogue.
Improvisation taught me how to be present in the moment of a scene and how to use that awareness to develop conflict and story.
Standup Comedy taught me how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and scenes with setups and payoffs.
Film editing taught me how to make meaning through juxtaposition and focus, and maybe most importantly, what you leave out is at least as important as what you put in.
Tyler then put out a call asking what outside influences other writers found useful in creating fiction. The comebacks were many and varied. Below is an edited collection of the responses…
People watching. I saw a man the other day at a fish market sitting at a table alone with a opened bottle of white wine , a untouched plate of food, his head in his hands, reading some novel off his phone. I just observed him and basically wrote him a backstory in my head and character traits. We're always writing. By observing the world around us and trying to make sense of it, we write.
Music, for pacing, crescendo, rests, and several voices telling one story.
Bartending (this one was a personal favorite)
Pro Wrestling, which taught me the best bad guys have some truth on their side, no matter how despicable their actions might be.
Drama. Learn how to visualize scenes and reveal character one pixel at a time using dialogue and behavior.
Screenwriting. Not necessarily the three act structure, but understanding concepts like inciting incident, key incident, and plot points helps to shape characters. Also dramatic need – A character who doesn't want anything is just furniture.
Journalism teaches you how to write a sentence economically.
Have a career / work a job / do something other than write.
Painting. Learning to recreate a visual scene teaches you to see the whole of an image and its constituent parts simultaneously.
Farming teaches patience and diligence, along with how to accept the parts of creation outside of your control and effort.
In psychoanalysis, everything is multi-layered and everyone has competing desires within them.
Semiotics/Post-structuralism – individual words have cultural power.
Yoga for balance and discipline. Yoga routines have a satisfying narrative flow
Parenthood. Because humans are so strange.
With knitting, everything is a composition, a medium arranged in a pattern. You can rip out stitches and start over. Nothing is perfect. Perfection is boring and for machines.
Comic books teach imagery and writing from the gut. Plus, everyone wants be some kind of hero. 
Gardening. Because sometimes you have to dig through piles and piles of manure to get a flower.
Studying martial arts and boxing have been great for writing fight scenes and understanding fear, anger and fight psychology.
Listening. To everybody. Even the idiots.
Blindness, which taught me how to engage the other senses more significantly in my work.
History, because it teaches how seemingly insignificant events can contribute to life-altering consequences. 
Wine and perfume appreciation, which teach awareness of senses other than sight and hearing.
Like the above comments, my own responses come from the influences in my life, all of which have influence my fiction…
Police work, which taught me truth is a variable – life is full of gray areas. Also taking no action is the worst possible choice.
Playing soccer taught me about narrative flow and strategy. It taught me how my characters had to be team players to succeed.
Book collecting, which taught me about obsession, anguish, and pursuit – all parts of a good story. 
I’m sure there are many other outside influences that teach us things we can apply to the fictional worlds we create. What are yours? 
TYLER DILTS: As a child, Tyler Dilts dreamed of following in the footsteps of his policeman father. Though his career goals changed over time, he never lost interest in the daily work of homicide detectives. Today he teaches creative writing at California State University in Long Beach, and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Best American Mystery Stories, and numerous other publications. He is the author of A King of Infinite Space and The Pain Scale, the first two novels in the Long Beach Homicide series. He lives with his wife in Long Beach, California.
PAUL BISHOP: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.  He continues to work privately as a deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.

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