By Mahala Church
Do you hesitate to start writing because of confusion about what to say, where to start, and how to shape your ideas? Read on.
- There is not a wrong way to write. New books do (at times) break the rules.
There are no yardsticks with which to measure success in writing. What makes you happy might not make me happy.
Creativity is the ultimate enigma. One of the universe’s greatest mysteries.
Over the next few weeks, I will share writing information in five categories. Use any or all of them, and you will learn something about writing, and perhaps find that what worked for another might work for you.
- There is creativity and there is craft.
- There are stories and there are plots.
- There are tools to help with writing.
- There is a plethora of methods for writing.
- There are good books and good websites on how to write.
- There is creativity and there is craft.
Craft includes all those things we learned (and may have forgotten) in school, plus extras: grammar, punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure, phrases and clauses, alliteration, syntax, parallelism, dialogue tags, adjective and adverb use.
There are excellent resources online to check yourself. One of my favorites is easy to use and is now available in a book format. http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl
You cannot break the rules until you understand the rules. If you are rusty, I recommend a middle or high school English book, not a college-level one.
Craft also includes some of the art of writing basics—be forewarned! Some break the standard rules of writing in the classroom. Writing fiction and writing an academic piece of fiction are two different things. Examples of the differences include: leaving off a comma so the “beat” of the sentence reads well, stand-alone phrases, and starting a sentence with the word But or And. Sadly, in my estimation, many books are foregoing quotation marks (often to impress us with the author’s risk taking skills), but that practice pulls readers from the story to determine if someone is speaking.
“And while you’re absorbing this, would you mind if I ate one of those pieces of pie?” small blessings by Martha Woodroof
“So you see, Alma, I could not become a minister after hearing of this. Nor a student. Nor a son. Nor—it seemed—a living man.” The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth George
“It was getting late and I had to catch the ferry.” The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant.
Creativity is more subtle. This is where the struggle presents itself to all writers. Where do we get ideas, point of view, voice, themes, tension, feelings, characters?
You may be pleased to know that no one understands the creative process: painting a picture, throwing a pot, penning a piece of music, or writing words that go together in a new and magical way have no basis in logic, no algorithm, no formula. Some authors claim to have a muse that sends their ideas by special delivery. Stephen King says he finds his ideas on a lower shelf in K-Mart. Wherever you find your creativity, it is the beginning of a journey of the mind, a journey of creativity, a journey to discover who you are.
Some people see and hear their characters. Charles Dickens had lengthy discussions with his, assuming a different voice for each as they debated plot points. For some, the characters come first and then they write the story around them. For others, an idea intrigues them or a plot crystallizes, and they create characters to bring the story to life. Some writers initially see the opening of the story and others see the end.
Obviously, the best stories have a cohesive theme with which the audience identifies. What is a theme? A theme is the idea, moral, or value that the story explores.
Did you know that 99.9% of all stories have a moral component? It may not be blatant, but it’s there. Here are a few for you to mull over:
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
In the Blood by Lisa Unger
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
The Seeker by R. B. Chesterton
Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
What would a class be without homework? Have some fun and list some of the themes (cause and effect) that Dickens explores in A Christmas Carol. How about To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee? And one more for good measure: The Hunger Games (book 1) by Suzanne Collins.
Make a list and I’ll provide some answers in April’s newsletter. Here is a hint: themes are usually a phrase such as: love is the greatest power on earth, courage overcomes fear, revenge is bittersweet (those comments on a book jacket).
How would you define the theme of your work in progress (WIP)?
As an author, you may revise the theme of your WIP as often as you do the first paragraph, but it is imperative to stabilize it as soon as possible to give your work focus as you create it. You want it to make sense, lead somewhere, and have a point. More importantly, why should readers spend time reading it if it has no destination?
Tip: What do you want your reader to see, know, and learn? Why?
Mahala Church is a freelance editor and writer for Written Word, her company that focuses on authors and other small business types who clamor to stay ahead of the pack. She pens weekly blog posts for a diversity of clients, including herself, and reaches out to writers through Barefoot Writing Academy, a division of Written Word, leading workshops, teaching classes, and providing individual mentoring. A published author of short stories, non-fiction, and book reviews, she lives in the crazy world of rescued dogs, kids, and turtles, one of whom prefers strawberries with his grits.