Monday, March 12, 2012

But you don't read!

As I brainstorm ideas with Mrs. Osterman, she will often get a very amused grin on her face and shake her head.  This is a cue to me to ask, of course, "What?  What's so funny?"  She will shake her head more and make a passing effort to refuse to answer me.  After some prodding she eventually relents and says "But you don't read."

Thus the question, how can I fashion myself as any kind of writer if I do not read?  Books that is.  I read a great deal of news, and political commentary on various websites, and blogs. I often contribute to them as well, and not just as a writer, but more than often as a teacher.  It's quite frustrating how often people with no experience in education are happy to opine for a few thousand words on how to fix education if someone would just put them in charge.

But as to literature, no, I'm not much of a reader.  I don't really feel I have the time for it.  On the one hand any time I spend with a book in hand is time my fingers are not pounding away at a keyboard and advancing one project or another.  But that's really only 1/4th of the answer.

I tend to think of writing as having two major components:  Mechanics and Material.  Style and Substance.  The Meat and the Bones.

When you read you are exposed to the story the author is telling and to the manner in which he is telling it.  What does he have to say?  And how does she put those words to page in a way that you understand the story?

I do enjoy a good story and I do enjoy seeing how others organize their tales.  But for me I tend to find the consumption of any literature to be about the discovery of the tale more than it is about parsing turns of phrase.  So for me I confess that I consume my "books" through non-book means.

For one I play a great deal of video games, and I tend to gravitate to games with some story.  RPGs and MMO's in particular draw me in because quite often the framework of a story is there and I am allowed, as a player, to flesh that story out with my own choices as well as provide my characters background, side notes, and personal quirks.  I am playing a character, currently, in Star Wars: Old Republic.  She is an Imperial Agent,and already has had to infiltrate a Hutt palace, befriend and then betray one of his lieutenants, progress to another planet, and there has a new slew of missions.

But as I've played I've developed more of her story.  I've thought about why she became an agent.  What was her life like before the uniform?  What experiences has she had that allow her to callously follow orders and execute a potential threat rather than allow them to escape with the promise of never returning?  Who is she, really?

And I find that this is just as good an exercise at getting me to think about my writing as reading a novel would be.  Other games that I've invested in recently include Dragon Age:  Origins.  I highly recommend it as a rich fantasy world with its own quirks and plays on the common tropes of Elves and Dwarves.

So, no, I'm not a reader, really.  But I do take in stories in my own way.  Perhaps in time non-novel-storytelling will get its due and the fact that most "reading" occurs in a video game won't seem so ... well.. novel.

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