One of the pieces of advice that is often cast at developing creative people (I’ve mostly read it as directed at writers, but I imagine it’s a universal-ish sort of thing) it to latch onto a work that resonates, and study it. Back in the days of vinyl, before stereo overdubs and hyperactive mixing, that’s how musicians would cut their teeth — buckle on headphones and replay songs over and over, figuring out a lick or bass groove a few seconds at a time, tearing it apart, learning from it, incorporating it into themselves until they learned what they needed, leveling up in musicianship (especially if the parts were tricky… have you tried picking out what McCartney does on some of the Beatles tracks? Lady Madonna, for instance.).
In the writing arena, anyone that’s attempted NaNoWriMo at least once has probably heard the advice. Hell, Chris Baty includes it in his book No Plot, No Problem. Have a model novel.
Without putting to fine a point on it, I went into figuring out my thesis novel with John Grisham’s The Firm as an undercurrent, the paranoia and underdog calling shoved into a situation where they are in jeopardy. Okay, so just about any thriller could fit the bill, but The Firm was what came to mind. Here’s the catch. I hadn’t read the book, at least, not completely, only seen the movie. (I started it about 15 years ago, I had a movie tie-in paperback, and made it 75-100 pages. Things didn’t click at the time, either the class schedule or work… I got distracted, then loaned it out from whence it never returned.) While in the middle of drafting the project, I knew I would need to take on the source, but I didn’t want to do so while still trying to figure out the story, my story, and having the first draft get derailed. I’ll read it, I told myself, after finishing the first draft.
The (very rough) first draft was finished back in September. After finishing the other classes for the semester, I dug in, reading for both story and execution. I’m still mulling over some of my observations (after finishing the book the other day), and how they might be able to be applied to my project (like stylistic things…hello, re-evaluating dialogue tags) but also making me question part of my structure (I’m using third, and the entire first draft is only from the over protagonist’s shoulder…now I’m wondering about adding some scenes from other POVs, and if so, whose?)
Which is to say, the study part is only just beginning. I was a little surprised by the reading, and found myself thinking about attacking my copy with post-its to mark scenes NOT from Mitch’s POV. I imagine that the paperback copy I have now will take it’s fair share of beatings over the next six months or so, until I get to a point where my manuscript sails with a bit of punch.