Reading Widely

If you’re like me, you may feel a tinge of envy when you hear a jet, wishing you had travelled more often. You may also have taken jobs to pay the bills, while you dreamed of a different career path. We’ve all passed up opportunities, made mistakes, and taken jobs, just because we had to pay the bills.

So what can you do if your knowledge of the world is limited, but you don’t want your writing to have a narrow focus?

I have never gone to a casino to gamble; the closest I’ve come to that is walking through a casino. I do, however have some knowledge of the industry through reading: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich and Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom. How could this information be useful? If you write science fiction and a space station your hero visits has a casino, it could help you imagine a realistic setting.

While I was briefly working as a Background Performer for a Canadian science fiction series, I walked through a set that was built to resemble the Oval Office. That’s the closest I’ll ever get to the White House. Fortunately, I found an excellent book that offers insights on what life is like for Presidents: Marine One: Four U.S Presidents, One Proud Marine, and the World’s Most Amazing Helicopter by Colonel Ray “Frenchy” L’Heureux with Lee Kelly. What I found most fascinating were the descriptions of the logistics involved in moving the President from one location to another, and how various Presidents interacted with their staff.

Since I’ve never been an executive with a financial institution, or a successful stock broker, how could I ever understand what it’s like to be a major player in billion dollar industries? These three books have given me a glimpse into what their lives are like: Winner Takes All by Christina Binkley describes the brinkmanship between competing casino magnates in Los Vegas. Rigged, which is about the oil industry, and Once Upon a Time in Russia, which describes the rise of Russian billionaires, are both written by Ben Mezrich. If one of your stories involves your characters making multi-million dollar deals, wouldn’t it be useful to understand some of the pressures and dangers of working in that environment?

It’s important to read widely; if your knowledge is based only on stereotypes you’ve seen on television, you’re going to write stories that are no more that strings of cliches linked together, to produce either a lousy novel, or a screenplay for a B movie that isn’t worth watching. Reading widely helps you develop a depth of knowledge, that allows your stories to be both creative, and believable.

I should note here that some novels are based on completely unrealistic stereotypes, become bestsellers, and are adapted for blockbuster movies, making the authors extremely wealthy. Although I try to offer useful advice, you’re still the author and you have to follow your gut instincts. So, if you’re flying overhead in a corporate jet, on your way to a meeting with a Hollywood producer, just give me a wave.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

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