Elaine talked about themes in writing, Jim commented on the unique qualities of each writer’s voice and Pauline focused on turning points that help her stay on track. I’m going to try (and I do mean try), to pull these things together and end the week on a positive note ready to face a weekend filled with writing. Unless you’re working your day job like me.
Before we begin, let’s be clear, I’m in no way an expert in this field. All I can tell you is what I’ve learned from my own journey so far.
I’ve written romance stories and they’ve sucked. I’ve written noir detective stories and they’ve sucked. I’ve written plain chick lit stories and they’ve sucked. I’ve written children’s stories and they’ve sucked. I’ve written horror stories and………are you seeing a pattern here yet? I don’t need to keep listing my failures, do I? It’s bad for the ego.
Several years later, I can look back on those ‘failures’ and see them for the learning experiences they were. Now I understand it was worth trying to write a gritty thriller or an overly romantic love story to discover where my talents, my strengths and weaknesses, lay.
The reason most, okay, fine, all of the stories I’d written sucked was because of the three things my cohorts have already talked about and one thing they haven’t.
Elaine mentioned an editor talking about the need to pick a theme to include in the story and how it didn’t work for her. During steepest part of my learning curve I tried something similar. It didn’t work for me either but before you place it on your list of ‘Writing Don’ts’ you need to try it for yourself. It might work brilliantly for you or it might not. You might be the next Lewis Carroll or you might be tearing your hair out, stuck at chapter three because the story isn’t playing out the way you want. Either way, you won’t know until you try.
Jim talked about how each writer had an individual and distinct voice. This is so very true and probably something you’ve unconsciously recognised but unfortunately, unless you’re one of the very lucky few, it’ll take you a while to find your way out of the karaoke zone. To use his musical metaphor, you won’t discover whether you’re more of a Britney or a Hayley Westenra until you’ve belted out a couple of tunes and found a range you feel comfortable in. Again, it’s a case of you won’t know until you try.
Pauline discussed how she focuses on turning points in her work to keep her driving the story forward and cutting out extraneous scenes. You might be able to write your story with as little as a vague idea of which direction you’re heading in or you might find it easier to plot every step of your character’s journey. I’ve written both ways and found that each way has its own highs and pitfalls. There isn’t a right or wrong way to write, it’s simply a case of whichever fits you better which means, say it with me people, you won’t know until you try.
The only thing no one’s yet mentioned is ‘passion’. You have to write from the heart. Readers can tell if you’ve written something to fit a market or because you think it’s what they want. Most people, myself included, read to escape. We want to be drawn into the world of the protagonist and follow as they unearth a mystery or dodge bullets or fall in love.
If you want to write about a three legged, seven armed gnome who sneezes gold coins and comment how they’re given the short straw in the garden ornament hierarchy, then do that. I can’t guarantee any agents or publishing houses will be interested but you never know. If you write it from the heart then you have a better chance of success because your passion for the story will shine through your writing. And if it moves you, chances are it’ll move at least one other person (hopefully an agent). There are over six billion people in the world after all.
With a little practice, you’ll find the best symbolism or themes pop up in your work without you having to actively remember to put them in because those are the things that are important to you, and your voice as an author will convey your passion for them in a natural way. You’ve heard the saying you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince (or princess, no sexism here gentlemen), well you have to write a lot of stories to find your style, your voice, your themes. Your passions, however, should be with you from the very start. That’s the part of you that demands you to put pen to paper in the beginning. It’s what keeps you sitting at your desk until 3am so you can finish the chapter you’re working on and it’s what will keep your readers hooked.
I’m not saying that if you let your passions drive your writing, you won’t make mistakes. You will, but writing is a journey, potholes and forks in the road are par for the course. Whether you’re following your map or drifting with wind, and whether you’re belting out your own version ‘Baby one more time’ or warbling ‘Prayer’, as long as your heart is in the driver’s seat your car will stay on the road.