One piece of advice I give aspiring writers is to read frequently, but to read outside your genre of choice, because you’ll often find inspiration from unexpected sources. A gunfight in a Western might might inspire a confrontation in a science fiction story. A love scene in a romance novel might inspire more emotional depth for a similar scene in a spy thriller.
An example I can cite related to my vampire fiction is the novel MASH written by Richard Hooker. For those not familiar with MASH, it’s a wartime comedy that tells the story of army doctors doing their best to stay sane during the Korean War. It inspired a Robert Altman film starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Sally Kellerman, which in turn inspired a TV series starring Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, and Loretta Switt.
One of the things that stood out for me about the book and the movie is that the protagonists weren’t altogether likable characters. They got out-of-control drunk, were intolerant, and they could be cruel, self-absorbed, and mean-spirited. Despite that, Hooker made us care about the characters through the humorous situations he put them in and the realization that all of us can be like these guys at our worst. Now, I’ll note that I grew up with the TV series where the doctors were generally played as likeable, good-hearted rogues, so to see their darker counterparts in the book and the movie was interesting from that point of view as well.
In my vampire novels and stories, I faced a similar challenge. By their nature, vampires are not heroic figures. They drink the blood of mortals to survive and my vampires are mercenaries who fight wars for profit. The lesson from MASH was that if you want the reader to sympathize with less-than-likeable characters, you need to help the reader understand how the characters became who they are. In MASH, Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke were doctors just beginning their careers when they were thrust into a war zone. No wonder they went a little crazy! A dangerous vampire might have started as a likeable or even heroic human. How would you behave if you suddenly became a creature of the night?
Another element I found interesting about the novel and movie MASH were their episodic qualities. A series of almost unrelated events were dovetailed together to create a narrative arc. I think this is often how life actually feels and I like telling stories this way. What’s more, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order was originally contracted as a series of five-stand alone novellas that came together and formed a narrative arc. By necessity, it had to be something of an episodic novel and an episodic novel like MASH helped me learn how to tell that kind of story.
Finally, just as an aside, when I found the original cover art for MASH shown above, I discovered another thing it has in common with Dragon’s Fall. Both novels were published in Canada!
I’ll wrap up today’s post with two links. First, there’s a great new review of Dragon’s Fall at http://enchantedspark.com/wordpress1/2013/05/02/dragons-fall-rise-of-the-scarlet-order-by-david-lee-summers/. Be sure to drop by and check out Melinda Moore’s thoughts on the novel. Also, there’s just a little more than one week left in the Goodreads giveaway for Dragon’s Fall. If you haven’t signed up for the giveaway, do so now at http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/50183-dragon-s-fall-rise-of-the-scarlet-order.