By Jason P. Henry
(Conference Director, 2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference)
I’d like to believe my writing abilities have come a long way since I first started. I could attribute my improvement to many things, but there’s one factor that I hold in highest regard. That is the multitude of amazing people I have met along my journey. I’ve traveled the world and met people from all over. I have conversations with people every chance I get. Through writing groups and from my involvement with Pikes Peak Writers, I have met hundreds of writers from nearly every genre. Most importantly, I’ve allowed myself to grow because of these interactions.
Now, before I continue, I confess that I have proudly presented myself as a diehard thriller, suspense, and horror writer. Those absorb a gluttonous amount of my passion. I was reading King and Poe by the time I was ten. I read Stine to the kids at the pre-school where I once worked. Since the first moment I put pen to paper, I’ve taken great pleasure in shocking people, making them cringe, and causing them to question my sanity. But, early on, there was something missing. Unexpected twists and causing readers to squirm came somewhat naturally, but I was lacking a certain depth to my characters.
Here’s where meeting people, even other writers, comes into play. I’ve heard personal stories of triumph and tragedy. I’ve witnessed raw emotions delivered in ways I never thought possible. I’ve experienced body language and dialogue I’d never considered. By meeting other writers, listening to their stories and hearing about their respective genres, I grew an appreciation for story and character elements I didn’t have before. Admittedly, until about year ago, I’d never considered reading a romance novel. There were many genres I’d never read.
That’s all changed.
I began to develop a bit of intrigue for authors I hadn’t yet experienced. I began visiting sections of the bookstore I’d never browsed. There was a vast expanse of knowledge I hadn’t tapped into and I was eager to amass this new found wealth. Now, my allegiance to thriller and horror is still strong, but I have a newfound respect for ‘those other genres’. In fact, I read a romance novel for the first time and, just this once, I will admit that I may have cried. Mostly likely coincidental and just a poorly timed allergy attack, but there were tears.
What is the point? The point is that one of the best things you can do is experience people and writing outside of your comfort zone. The more diverse your acquaintances, the stronger your characters will be. This is vital to a good story. The depth of your characters, the relationships they have, all contribute to conflicts, motivations, and choices. Become a people watcher.
Go to the mall and find a seat. Just start observing random people. Watch how they move, notice how they dress, listen to how they talk, and see how they interact. Introduce yourself. You’ll be surprised at how easy striking up a random conversation can be if you say “I’m a writer.”
Next, go to where you acquire reading material. I want you to bypass that section your feet have worn ruts into and visit the sections you typically avoid. Grab a book from each. Read them. Study them. Look at what makes them good and apply those ideas.
That doesn’t mean open your work-in-progress and completely change it. If you’re writing a thriller about a murderer terrorizing modern day Boise, Idaho, don’t add a unicorn being tracked by an alien bounty hunter who falls in love with the elf at Margie’s Diner. Stay true to your writing, but utilize the important elements of other genres. The building of relationships, the depth of characters, the descriptiveness and imagination of settings.
Much can be learned outside your comfort zone. There’s a great big world on the other side of your laptop screen. You can leave your house, meet other people, and discover your characters. You can, and should, meet other writers from as many genres as possible. Join a writing group. Go to a writer’s conference. Interact with others and you’ll be amazed at how your writing improves.
I’m thrilled to be the director for the 2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I’ve spent four years with this amazing group of people. My horizons have broadened, my writing has benefited, and I’ve gained an appreciation for all genres. The Pikes Peak Writers Conference isn’t about which genre is best, it’s about making the writer the best they can be regardless of genre.
Come find me at the Colorado Springs Marriott April 15-17, 2016. I’ll help you out of your comfort zone and together we’ll Dare to Dream.
Jason P. Henry is lost in a world of serial killers, psychopaths, and other unsavory folks. Ask him what he is thinking, but only at your own risk. More often than not he is plotting a murder, considering the next victim, or twisting seemingly innocent things into dark and demented ideas. A Suspense, Thriller and Horror writer with a dark, twisted sense of humor, Jason strives to make people squirm, cringe, and laugh. He loves to offer a smile, but is quick to leave you wondering what lies behind it. Jason P. Henry is best summed up by the great philosopher Eminem “I’m friends with the monsters beside of my bed, get along with the voices inside of my head.”
Learn more about Jason and his writing at his website. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and contributing to the amazing Blood-Red Pencil blog.
Thanks for sharing! Now I know what was going on inside your head as you were growing up!!! Explains a lot!!! 🙂 Keep up the good work!
Jason P. Henry says
What can I say, Allan? At least with that line, if not with any other. Slim Shady seemed to get me!
Allan Emerson says
Good advice, Jason, and I got a kick out of your choice of “philosopher.”
Jason P. henry says
Thank you, everyone.
Patricia, it is an honor to be your guest today. Thank you so much for inviting me.
I was a people watcher long before I was a writer. Being the shy, quiet type as a kid, sitting back and watching was about all I did. I watched, I studied, i learned a lot about the person I wanted to be and became. Now I am thrilled to be able to employ all of that knowledge into a task as fantastic as writing.
It is a terrific thing we all do.
Margot Kinberg says
This is really helpful. Thanks, both. I think it’s essential for writers to really observe how actual people move, speak and dress. What’s more, it’s helpful to go to places you don’t usually go (so long as they’re safe, of course) and watch people. You learn so much more about the broader human experience.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
Adding a unicorn might be one heck of a twist though.
Through my blogger buddies I have read many books outside my genres of science fiction and fantasy. Including a chick lit book. (No allergy attack but it was a cute story.) So much variety we have to draw from.
My favorite place to watch people is in airports. Few people are relaxed there, most are rushed, stressed, and unable to resist talking loudly on their cell phones. I soak up more character ideas in that environment than anywhere else I go.
Thanks for being my guest today, Jason.