As a writer and reader, I’m a big fan of imagination. That’s why when Amazon sent me an email about the new book, Imagine, by Jonah Lehrer, I couldn’t wait to exercise my prime membership to bring it home to me. (And in the weird way my brain works, I don’t like to read research/non-fiction books on my Kindle…want them on paper.)
Highly recommend! From the first pages where he discusses the invention of the Swiffer and then to how Bob Dylan writes songs, there’s something for everyone here. But as a writer of genre fiction, when he spoke about poets and poetry, I found a line that really spoke to me and my experience. In discussing how form (say haiku or sonnet) frustrates poets, he goes on to explain why this frustration is actually beneficial.
“You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”
When a creator has to work within a structural framework (think the beats of a romance novel or the even tighter frame of a category romance novel), in order to stay “within the lines” the writer has to think beyond the obvious in order to make it fresh and original. We all know how a romance is going to end, so it’s the journey we’re reading for…or the witnessing of the process of building that structure.
But this quote about breaking out by stepping into shackles reminds me of why I always had a particular creative thrill when writing a book for a continuity series dreamed up by the editors of Harlequin/Silhouette (for example, the Montana Mavericks series). Writers are given a “bible” that describes the hero and heroine in the story, their place in the overarching plot of the series, and a few beats that should show up in the story that other writers can play off of in their books. It’s a challenge to take that and make it into a story that works in a way that feels the writer’s own. Yep, you have to step into the shackles all right, but the delight in the creation is more keen because of it.
I’ve been reading a lot lately (a short lull before digging into revisions) and I did start thinking about why I worry about the characters in the romances I’m reading. Clearly I know there’s going to be a happy-ever-after. But my heart and mind don’t know the emotional rollercoaster the characters will have to endure before they get there. That’s what I’m worrying about. A good writer, working within the shackles of romance novel expectations, will build a story that tickles my imagination and keeps me turning pages.
What are you reading right now? Besides Imagine, I just read the first of a new series by Virginia Kantra and have started the latest Ghostwalker book by Christine Feehan.