It’s interesting that this topic even surfaces, because just last night I happened upon the movie, “The Neverending Story”, in all of its 30-year old glory. But there is an interesting scene towards the beginning of the movie when Sebastian is running away from the three bullies and ends up in a bookstore, where he meets the owner of the store who is reading the book that Sebastian eventually “borrows” from him and sets off the rest of the story.
What really got me interested in this whole thing is the discussion between Sebastian and the owner about the various types of reading. The owner assumes that Sebastian is like any other typical “kid” in that the only reading they do is in the form of comic books. Sebastian then proceeds to rip off a list of literary classics that impresses the owner. But the book that the owner is holding is one that is more special than any other book because once you get drawn into the world, you cannot escape its grasp and you end up changed as a result.
It’s a very simplistic and entertaining movie, that I remember watching in the theaters when I was a young lad. But combined with an interesting discussion that is making the rounds, it got me thinking about how I can approach the craft of writing from a perspective that helps those who are learning about what it takes to write a good story. I first read about an article by Chuck Wendig about how Writing Can be Taught. (Note: The article contains language that is inappropriate for some.)
I agree wholeheartedly that the vast majority of writers are taught, either by experience or by another person or persons. But this article, by itself, was not the inspiration for writing this blog post. A friend of mine, Karen Woodward, wrote a an interesting article about the price that writers must pay for the cost of good writing. This sparked an interesting discussion about the various differences in not only authors but also in the types of books that they write. I will say what I wrote there, in that, “Great writing has many degrees of literary sophistication.” What I mean by this is that for every “great” literary work, such as Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, or Crime and Punishment, there are books like The DaVinci Code, Harry Potter, or the Twilight series. Both sets of books are ones that help us to define what is considered to be “great writing”, but both do it in ways that reveal something that most of us do not consider. The art of storytelling.
A great story, from my perspective, simply needs to be one in which the reader feels compelled to turn the page and upon finishing the last page, feels that all of their questions were answered and that the author delivered on all of their promises. It is our job as writers to become the best storyteller that we can. THAT, to me, is the ultimate of goal of learning what it takes to become a good writer. If you don’t know how to be able to tell a good story or at least recognize what a good story is when you read one, then you will require a great deal more time in becoming a good writer than one who already has that ability, but you can still become a good writer. Once you know that the difference between The DaVinci Code and Treasure Island, isn’t as far a gap as one might think, then you can get over a roadblock that usually keeps most people from achieving their dream of becoming a published author. The difference is not in kind, but rather degree. Let me explain what I mean by this. If I have Bic pen and a Mont Blanc pen, both are pens. So in that respect, both the Bic and the Mont Blanc pen are the same in kind. But one is universally known as a “standard” pen, and the other is known as one of the finest pens that can be bought. Both are just as useful in writing a letter or an examination for a class. So the difference between the Bic and the Mont Blanc are different only in degree in that one costs more and is made of higher quality material. It is the same with the difference between The DaVinci Code and Treasure Island. One is able to write a compelling and fulfilling story using more of a compelling movie-like action narrative, and the other is able to draw the reader in with the proper literary “swagger” that one associates with a book as renowned as Treasure Island. Both are bestselling books. Both are books with the ability to draw the reader in and allow them to live through the eyes of the Main Characters.
If you are like me and your goal is to be published, then you need to recognize the kind of writer you are and work from there. Not everyone will be a Robert Louis Stevenson and that’s okay. It’s not something to be upset about, but rather something that you just need to recognize in yourself. Being Dan Brown isn’t so bad. He’s published, successful, and had two of his books turn into movies. And that never sucks. So don’t worry about the relative value of what it means to recognize yourself on the line between Stephanie Meyer and Emily Bronte. Just recognize it for what it actually means and decide to be the best writer you can be, understanding that being a writer really means that you are a storyteller who is capable enough to put that story to paper.
Your goal, as a writer, is many-fold: You must first learn what makes a good story. You then must learn how to craft your own story based on the techniques learned of what goes into making a good story, and then you must learn how to properly translate that story on to paper.
We all must strive to become great storytellers, and not just great writers. How well we write is somewhat secondary to the ability to spin a good yarn. And ultimately, as the bestseller lists show, readers want a good story just as much as they want a story that transcends to become a great literary work. If we know what we want, as readers, then you can just apply that to how you write your story.
I look forward to talking more about this in future posts.
See you soon!!!