One of our classes looks through the history of stories, writing, words, letters and printed literature. The notion that we stand on the shoulders of giants has always been a fascination but can also feel overwhelming. Try as hard as you might, it can feel impossible to create something new or original. You look back to take stock of historic influences only to find a vast chasm full of knowledge (deliberate oxymoronic image for you there). Where to begin?
Chunk it down, and don’t use a knife. Have you seen that video where the pineapple is sectioned and pulls neatly out in chunks? Still haven’t tried it. Does it really work that well?
Use this technique with history – that is fine. Do not feel you have to: start at the top, chop that off, cut every slice, carve out the inedible skin, share out exact portions and place them on a decorative tea plate with a serviette before you can eat any. Instead pull a chunk out from the bottom, then the middle, then give one to someone else and talk about the experience together because that section was too darn tasty and needed to be shared. Allow the juice to drip on your T.Shirt, leaving a stain which won’t come out or be forgotten. Get sticky fingers, lick them clean. Take everything in.
If you have no time and the thought of preparing a pineapple still feels too much work to carry out – buy frozen pineapple aka watch a youtube video. You don’t need to hunt around or prepare you can just savour the goods. However, the knowledge could be short lived. If you can find time to dip in to a few sources of historic interest and engage with the content in different ways that’s when you get the sweet sticky fingers which can be licked clean. Forget being a grown up.
Take whichever historic knowledge you delve inside and use it, mould it, read information out loud, play with ideas. Feed your creative project in progress with your new discoveries.
Google search crime fiction for a Work In Progress. Read some other contemporary crime fiction, make notes, learn, delve deeper and discover via the sharp blades of Wikipedia (how much longer can we really exploit this metaphor) that crime fiction has connections with detective stories, murder mystery, mystery and police novels. Remember Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from your school days and re-watch Robert Downey-Junior in Sherlock. Then discover that, One thousand and one nights contains the earliest known examples of crime fiction. What’s, One thousand and one nights? Discover more about the Arabic tales which date back more than 4000 years. 4000 years ago, there was a different version of you sitting creating stories and carving them on tablet stones which would influence exactly what you are aiming for on your electronic tablet today.
How can you use your new found knowledge? Your sub-conscious will engage and your creativity will inevitably improve. You can also choose to make conscious nods to new found knowledge in your work. After reading, The House on Haunted Hill you could have your character drink milk from a mug with stars on it before bed. No one needs to pick up on this reference but you know it can be your way of saying ‘thank you, I read Shirley Jackson and it helped so much I want to honour that in some way in my haunted house story’. We aren’t suggesting you honour past work too much and get inside a plagiarism battle, but finding ways to speak to history, acknowledge historic influences and encourage the future readers not to forget can be very beneficial to your writing.
Try it …
Learn about your craft and not simply by using research for, what uniform/clothes detectives wore in Germany. For your latest novel, search for an early famous German detective, use some of their mannerisms to 4D improve your main character. But above all, as always, keep coming back to your work and making use of findings. Write. Get your fingers sticky.