So I was reading Alexandra Sokoloff's great series of columns on story structure. Her first word of advice is to put together a list of your ten favorite works in your chosen genre, or just your ten favorites altogether.
I haven't done my genre-specific favorite list, but I *did* sit down and write a list of ten books and/or movies I wish I'd written. I was surprised at some of my results:
High Noon (for my money, this movie is the most tightly-crafted thriller ever!)
Prayers for Rain (Dennis Lehane's prose has never been more haunting)
Shotgun Opera (Victor Gischler writes crisp, fast, sharp and vivid)
The Bottoms (Joe Lansdale's literary mystery stacks up against anything else I've ever read)
Coraline (something about the whimsy and magic in Gaiman's world...)
Silence of the Lambs (the movie, not the book-- oddly)
Strega (Andrew Vachss's second novel gave us a femme fatale who still haunts my idle nightmares)
Long Lavender Look (why THIS John D. MacDonald and not another, I'm at a loss to say. All the same, I stand by it.)
Fargo (a haunting, beautiful, grim and funny movie, and a story structure that ties my head in knots!)
The Crow (I just wish to hell I'd written this movie, okay?)
Certain readers might be surprised to see a few of my favorite authors missing. James M. Cain and Gil Brewer both wrote a hell of a story, but as much as their doomed heroes resonate with me, I don't wish I'd written them. Same is true in the other direction for Robert A. Heinlein, JK Rowling and Marian Keyes.
The exercise was also enlightening. Thomas Harris lost out to Ted Tally (writer of the screenplay for Silence of the Lambs) for two reasons: one was the tighter structure and visual system of the movie, and the other was that the movie flirts with the seductiveness of evil without ever rolling over and showing its belly to the darkness. Harris is WAY too enamored of the dark side for me.
One thing I'm still puzzling over is the absence of James Lee Burke. I mean, I LOVE the guy's fiction, would be proud to call any of his books my own, but after three days of working on that list, nothing of his made the cut.
I've got two theories. 1) I'm more in love with the overall body of work than with any single book, or 2) I'm just too intimidated to even list him.
So how bout y'all? What do you wish you'd written?
Visual artists and musicians, you can do this exercise in your chosen mediums too. Perhaps sometime I'll mention paintings or tattoos I wish I'd done....
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