Yesterday, I finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing and while I knew most of the specifics offered therein, the concepts concerning writing have already been quite useful to my own work.
Here are the key concepts I picked up on in reading.
Writers receive telepathic messages.
This concept was the most surprising to me. To a point, I can pick up on what other people are feeling. Here, King tells us that in writing, we create telepathic messages that cross over time. Meaning if I describe a room to you, you and I will see similar rooms. That message is telepathic.
I don’t think he meant it this way, but I think that writers also have an ability to pick up on things that others don’t see. Because of this attuned nature, writers can spin things in many ways, as they can generally understand many viewpoints.
I have had the ability (when I use it) to understand the motives and actions of others. This is especially useful in creating characters and in gauging how they would act in different situations.
The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story…to make him or her forget, whenever possible, that he or she is reading a story at all.
I desperately needed this clarification. Sometimes the writing suffers for the good of the story. In great stories, this only happens for a few sentences in the book.
Coming from a heavy background in English, the importance of the sentences has been hammered into my mind. However, in fiction, the language is second to the story, not the other way around. I noticed this to some extent in reading Paul Genesse’s The Golden Cord. In order to further the story, sometimes the writing must be simple, or even sub par.
Many academics claim that the writing in fiction is suffering. And perhaps, by their standards, it is. But the writing is not, and should not be, the focus of a well constructed story. I believe that I have picked up on this in many books (even in Stephen King’s work.) But now that I am immersing myself into the world of fiction, I understand that as long as the story comes through, the writing can suffer and still work.
You have to furnish an apartment for your muse to live in after you’ve descended to it’s level.
I love King’s metaphors. Your muse will not always come to you. Sometimes, you have to go to it and tell it that you are ready to listen to what it has to say. If our muse comes to visit, but we consistently tell it that we are too busy to listen, pretty soon it will stop coming around. To work under our best frame of mind, and hopefully to work under the influence of the muse, we must make a home for it to stay in that we can visit it when the time is right.
I took this to go hand in hand with King’s advice to “write with the door closed.” Our first draft can suffer when we share it with others or allow the influence of the world to touch it when it is still gestating. Basically this approach should be what I did with my first novel, one large uninterrupted free-write. Once we have finished a draft in a place set aside from the rest of the world, then we can share what we have discovered with those around us and improve it from there. But the more distractions we have, the less likely our muse will want to help us out.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.
If we don’t know what has already been done, how do we know if our work will be accepted? Great ideas are shared between two or more people, most of the time by accident.
Likewise, most people learn best by example. If we don’t read, how can we learn those examples, good and bad? I believe that one should read if they cannot write, and write if they cannot read. Either way, you have plenty to keep you busy.
If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good.
This is true not just for writing, but for any pursuit mankind can achieve. Unless you are writing a report or paper (which you may actually be found about) your reader will be able to tell if you don’t care about what you are writing. I call this writing for writing’s sake. If you are not passionate about the story you are telling, then it is not a story worth telling.
Let me correct myself. If you are not passionate at least once when telling your story, what is the point? Humanity lives off of stories, and there are enough stories that we should shy away from the badly constructed ones.
Seriously. Life is short. Writing is hard. Why waste your time doing it if you don’t enjoy it? No one is making you write a novel (unless you’ve already started, then your agent is probably making you write one.)
No one is forcing you to become a fiction writer. This is my choice and I write because it keeps me alive. I write because I want to share this experience with all those who will have me.
Every character you create is partly you.
This is something I also struggle with. As I wrote the second draft of my short story, I felt my character was too flat because she seemed just like me. When I read this, I realized that I can’t get around at least a part of that. I can only see through my own understanding of the world around me, and that is going to taint everything I do. And that is perfectly alright.
A writer’s job is to tell the truth.
Now, this isn’t truth with a capital T. Your story must be believable and have something you know to be true. Whether that be the truth of human fear, or personal experiences, this is left up to your own discretion.
But if you are trying to sell a story filled with things you don’t believe in, then give up. No one will want to read it.
The truth of human experience is a powerful and vast story. If you can offer up just a tiny sliver, then your story will find a grateful reader.