Bad Influence

I learned most of the basic fiction-writing concepts in 3rd-7th grade, some via direct teaching in English class, some from just reading a ridiculous amount of fiction. In some cases, I absorbed the idea gradually and then started applying it without thinking about it. In others, I can point to the exact book where it clicked and I immediately changed my own writing.

The E.T. novel — yes, the book based on the movie about the little gray alien — taught me point of view. If you’ve never read it, I recommend it, especially if you’re looking for a virtuoso demonstration of How to Handle Multiple Points of View. Everybody gets at least a few paragraphs from their own pov, including the alien, the biology teacher, and even the dog. And the tone changes to match the character, while still keeping the same basic narrative style. That book was a goddamn revelation to 10-year-old me.

And then there are the habits I picked up without knowing it. I was digging through an old box of papers yesterday and found a stack of partially-finished rough drafts. I skimmed through them, and I noticed a pattern: long, drawn-out beginnings with unnecessary scenes and odd tangents. I like tangents. I think these would have been fine later in the story but, placed where they were, they were just stalling.

And I realized: Shit. I learned pacing from The Lord of the Rings.

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Author: Bethany Harvey

I’m a biologist, environmental educator, occasional firefighter and reluctant cubicle monkey living in North Carolina. I write literary short stories and SFF novels, and hope to someday figure out why it doesn’t work the other way around. You can find me yelling about politics on Twitter (@bethanyharvey) or about under-appreciated wildlife at OverlookedNature.com.

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