by Gayle Bartos-Pool
We here at The Writers-in-Residence are writers. Whether it’s a novel, short story, news article, play, movie script, or even a How-To book on writing, words are our life and love and sometimes our nemesis because it can be hard to get those words on the page when life gets in the way. But we have all had our work published and know how hard it is to get that done. Whether it’s more than fifty books in print like our Linda O. Johnston or a few books like some of us or newspaper articles like Jackie Houchin, we have gotten those words out.
I have taught writing classes and have spoken to numerous people in my daily life who wanted to write, but they didn’t know exactly how to go about it. I’m very sure they actually knew how to write. We all learned to do just that in the first grade, at least we learned how to get a few words down on that wide-lined paper way back in the Dark Ages before computers. I would ask these folks who wanted to be writers what had they written so far and over half said nothing. Not a chapter, an opening paragraph, an outline or even a concept. Nothing. They have a long way to go, but perhaps they are more interested in the “idea” of writing rather than have an idea of what to write.
I remember speaking with a nurse in a hospital lunchroom when Richard was ill. I had mentioned that I was a writer and she said she wanted to write. I told her that everybody had a story or two in them whether it was a fiction tale or the story of one’s own life. She started telling me some of her family’s stories. They were fascinating. This gal had a story in her that should be written even if only her family reads it, but the way she told those few tidbits, lots of people would enjoy reading about her life. I wished her well.
But talking doesn’t get those words on paper. Whether writing it in longhand like Ray Bradbury did with every single book he ever wrote including The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 which he wrote with a pen, he got those stories written down. Don’t get mesmerized by the “idea” of writing, or the “fame” (that’s only if you sell a million copies the first week your book is in print), or the “money” you’ll make (authors usually get a small percentage of the cover price after the publisher and the distributor and the bookstore get their cut; sorry, that’s the reality unless you have sold that previous million copies). Don’t let that stop you from writing. Write.
Do you have a story you want to tell? After these past two years being basically isolated due to the flu that has kept most of us living in solitary confinement, you just might have something you were tossing around in your head or maybe even you got a chapter or two written or an outline dashed off so you wouldn’t forget the story line. I can tell you from personal experience, if you don’t write it down, you will definitely forget it. Dear Bonnie Schroeder, a fellow scribe, gave me a notepad that hangs up in the shower along with a pencil that allows one to write down that elusive idea that pops into your head while the hot water is calming you and you are free to let those creative juices flow. Write.
You can always run an idea past a friend to see how it sounds. If you belong to a writers’ group, you might toss the idea out during a meeting and see what the group thinks. They might have some suggestions to help you focus your story. If they shred your idea like a head of cabbage, perhaps join another group. I’m serious about this. Some groups aren’t there to help. But then again, you might get a good story out of the fact the group was all wrong because of the hidden agendas of the other members of said group. Hey, ideas are everywhere. Write.
Nevertheless, if you actually have an idea for a story, write that outline. Who are the characters in the story? Don’t have a cast of thousands. Readers won’t be able to follow Who’s on First. Next, where does the story take place? Location, location, location. They do that all the time in the movies. Where do you want your small cast of characters to be situated? You’ll get to describe the place. Don’t make it a travelogue, but make it interesting. Visual. Maybe even astonishing. The moon, a sinking ship, a haunted house. A jail cell. Write.
When your characters speak do they have something to say? Again, I’m serious. Make whatever they say part of the story. If their dialogue doesn’t add anything to the story, cut it. And make a character or two colorful in his or her speech. It adds to the flavor. Write.
Then of course you have to have a plot. Why are those interesting characters in that interesting place saying those interesting things? That is your story. You have had this idea running around in your head; what is it? You will realize (hopefully) that the story you are telling has a point to make. You might think that the story is the point. Ask Aristotle about that. Since he’s busy, let me say this: After someone reads your story and has gotten to know your characters and has visualized that intriguing setting and has listened to the witty dialogue your characters are saying while the story progresses, when the reader gets to the end of your story they need to be able to say, “Ah! That was a story about Man against Nature or Woman against Society or Man Struggling against Himself.” That’s the point of the story, not the plot.
Say you want to tell a story about Man against Himself. Now you have a goal to come up with a story that centers on that Theme. The man keeps setting up roadblocks to stop himself from doing something he really wants to do. You must construct that plot. You will define those roadblocks and his excuses to not do what he needs to do to fulfill himself, to reach his goal. You create the characters that both help and hinder him. You design a setting that either lulls him into complacency or he thinks is above his lot in life. And you write the dialogue that has him expressing his dreams and desires along with those who tell him can or can’t achieve his goal. And Voilà, you have that story. And you might actually realize that the stubborn character you are creating is really you and then get more of those words on the page.
We are finishing up one hell of a year, actually two. Soon a New Year will open up those dreams you have buried because you keep telling yourself you’ll write that story later. It is later. Write it. What do you want to say? Get those words on the page. Write it.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Write on!