Thoughts on Writing

I feel like I’ve just broke through a plateau in my writing ability recently and figured it was time for some reflection about writing itself.

I never thought much about writing until I stared blogging 2 months ago. Its a cool skill to develop since virtually everyone knows how to do it and uses it to some degree. To become a good at anything is challenging, writing is no different. There are many different types of writing. A journalist might be good at describing events, but not be able to write compelling dialogue. A great fiction author might struggle with writing their thoughts down on a political issue. A great essayist might be unable to write verse. There are some elements that are common to all of them and being good in one area will help you in the others but writing takes on many different forms. Everyone will have their strengths and weaknesses.

I am writing a short story “The Lucky Break” I want to sell on Amazon for kindle. I want it to be about 12,000 words or so. Not that I am going to write filler to reach such an arbitrary word count but rather if I am going to charge money, no matter how small an amount, I want it to be substantial. Writing such a long story is much harder than writing a short story that’s only a thousand or so words. A story like “The Escape” I was largely able to write in an improvisational matter. I started writing knowing I wanted to describe a prison break of some sort, I wasn’t even sure if I was going for a classic make a run for it kinda story when I started typing. Since I knew it was going to be short I was free to type without worrying about such details too much. I thought of an article I read a while back about a female guard helping a convict escape a while back. I also thought about Final Fantasy 8 jail part where they trick a guard by pretending to be sick. I put these ideas together to get my plot.

I know lots of people who think writing is something hard to do, but that’s only because they set these high standards for themselves. I make an analogy to barbell training. You should start out learning how to lift with an empty bar, and only then add weight to it. That’s why I am sticking to mainly short content right now, so I can grind up my skills. As much as I would love to write an amazing novel that is far beyond my ability at the moment. Considering how much I’ve struggled with “The Lucky Break” I still have a long way to go learning this craft. I am happy with my progress so far for only investing a few months into it. I am able to type much faster now. Before I had to think about each line and if I tried to just type whatever came to mind it would not flow very well at all. Now I am typing this post without having to stop and ponder what to say next. This isn’t always the case, but I am getting better at blocking out all the unneeded thoughts when I am writing. Stephen King in “Salem’s Lot” has his writer protagonist say that an author’s work amount to a written confession of everything he’s ever done. I didn’t think much of the line when I read it, but it seemed to have stuck itself in my sub-conscious. After writing myself I see the logic behind it, especially when writing fiction.

Writing fiction requires you to get inside your characters heads to be able to give them each a unique voice. An individual however only has their own experience to go off of however. If someone were to read in between the lines they would be able to figure out not only how I think about the world but also how I think other people think. Conversely I feel like I am able to better read other people now that I have started writing since I have had to think about how certain people think about the world depending on their background age and gender.

I have began to notice stylistic differences between men and women’s writing when talking about personal experiences. I can’t pick out the difference on academic articles or anything that requires the writer to be detached. Fiction can be hard to tell the gender at times, depending on the genre. I can’t quite put my finger on the difference but there have been times where I have thought “This must be a girl writing this” and go on and check the author’s name to find out I am right. I think women have more emphasis on internal dialogue than guys do. I’d be interested in reading more about the topic. I guess its one of those “How you do one thing is how you do everything” or “The self is always shining through” kinda deal. It might be a fun exercise to try and hide your style when writing.

Another thing I find shocking in some amateur’s work I’ve read is a seeming disregard for the importance of tone. For example I read a sample from a sci-fi novel that described a character with reference to “The Simpsons”. This completely ruined the atmosphere to me because it brings in my head an image of the yellow animated characters, which pulled me out of the setting they were trying to create. I have also read pieces that were written with a format that tried to make it look like a poem with no regard for meter. I guess this might be why I like writing so much since I seem to have a sense naturally for it. Probably because I read so much. I know in music I had a hard time grasping lots of concepts that other’s seemed to intuitively grasp, but then again I don’t listen to a whole lot of music.

I have been getting through “How to Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure” and realize how much I have to learn. The author is able to draw on a lot of examples from so many pieces of fiction and movies which I don’t get. Makes me feel motivated to consume all the culture I can now. I finally watched Forest Gump because of it. Now when I watch movies I always consider the choices the writer made when telling his story. Having Forest be a bit slow makes the story as powerful as it is. A writer can completely transform the feeling of the story by changing the narrator. An analogy to music would be like playing a C major scale over an C compared to an A. If the bass of the song is A the scale is actually A minor which creates a melancholic mood. They have the same notes but the context changes the feeling. A common reaction people have is to dislike people who make money, that wealth can evoke feelings of envy and make characters less likable. Forest, since his stupidity lets us feel superior to him even if he is rich, we can “forgive” him for making lots of money. To see my point think about if Forest Gump was a smart, smooth talking man. The story would fall apart.

Its a curious thing about fiction, we like characters because of their flaws, not their strengths.

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