Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Talking on Paper

Stephen King has always been my favorite writer.  Not because he can scare me half to death with his stories, but because he can climb into a characters head and become that character, whether it's a teenager, a woman or an old man.

Oh wait.  I think maybe I have that backwards.  I am currently reading "Stephen King/On Writing" and he says the characters take on a life of their own and end up making the story he's trying to tell so much better than he ever expected it to be. I don't often write fiction, but I have. What he says is true.  The characters take the story and run with it.

This reminded me of my high school days, so many years ago.  I remember hating the way English Literature teachers took the fun out of reading by pulling apart the novels we were assigned to read. They said things like, "What did the author want you to think when he wrote that?"  I figured, even then, that this was utter nonsense.  Story tellers don't write words to purposely make you think this thing or that.  They just tell the story and let the reader fill in the blanks.  Except, perhaps in the case of a mystery, when the writer might purposely think up some red herring to throw at you, just to put you off the scent of figuring out who killed who too soon.  Good writers don't plot the story out nearly as much as some of my English teachers would have you think.  It just proved they are teachers, not writers.

When writing fiction, characters often lead you places you would never have thought of going.  This could change a plotted story completely, or if you are stubborn about it, make the story you insist on trying to tell unnatural and stilted.  You have to let the characters lead. They know where they are going, even if you don't.

I had a mother say to me recently, "I wish you could teach my son to write."  I felt that was a great compliment. It started me thinking though.

I've heard a lot of people state that they can't even write a letter. I'm sure they can, but they were probably intimidated by all those English lessons having to do with grammar and composition they had to endure in school, and came out thinking it was all a lot harder than it actually is.  Putting words on paper can be intimidating if you think about it too much. That's the trick, I guess. Don't think about it.  I have an answer for anyone who ever told me they would like to write a letter to a friend or relative, but they just can't write. If you can talk, you can write.  I get them to tell me what it is they wanted to tell the person on the receiving end, and when they were done, I say, now pick up your pen and just write down what you just told me. It doesn't need to be any fancier than that.  Many of them don't believe me, I'm sure, and those letters never do get written.  That's a pity really.

The best way to improve your writing is simply to read. Let go of the thought of being some literary genius and just enjoy the art of writing. You will likely succeed as other people will identify with what you are saying. It's just talking on paper, after all.  As you can see, that's all I ever do here.  I got you to read this far, didn't I?


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