Copyright Jess Ruby (Creative Commons)
So, what makes a good story?
At it’s root is a “suspension of disbelief”. The person reading the story must be able to believe that the story is real. At least for the duration of the story. This is true regardless of whether or not it is a five minute parable about helping those less fortunate or a five hour novel about elves and vampires. Having the reader believe that it is true gives not just authenticity to the story but allows the story to have emotional power over the reader.
Although, to be honest, this is not just a writer / reader phenomenon. Stories are part of how we communicate with each other. The stories that we embed in our presentations lend credence to the result. (You do put stories in your presentations, don’t you?) The stories that we tell of our childhood, regardless of their veracity, help others empathize with a particular point of view.
How we communicate, how we tell our stories, gives us the power to influence people and their thoughts.
I read a lot. I write a lot. But I have discovered that in much of my writing I am lacking an emotional viewpoint, I am lacking the piece that connects you and I together. The fiction that I try to write is somewhat cold and emotionless, not allowing the reader to suspend their disbelief. And there in lies my problem, for without that suspension of disbelief, even I don’t buy it and I wrote it.
So, what am I doing about it? To be honest, I’m reading a lot. I’m trying to see how “good” authors differ from the “average” authors. I’m trying to figure out what it is that gets me emotionally attached to a character and why I don’t care about others. I’m reading good books and I’m reading bad books.
But most of all, I’m listening to the inner me as I scream with joy or yawn with boredom. And I’m taking notes.
Copyright Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)
One of the things that comes up frequently is that texting is ruining the English language and by association the Internet is ruining English. But is it? A book I am currently reading – The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker – shows examples from the past six hundred years of how everyone always seems to think that the language of today is being corrupted. Everyone.
Pinker goes on to stipulate that the Internet, if anything, is allowing people to choose the style of English that they prefer. For the most part people seem to want “proper” English. The definition of proper changes as those who speak it get older and those taking their place have a different perspective on what is proper. But the vast majority of people want the English that they read to be done “right”.
After all, the Internet actually forces people to do a lot of reading. Whether it be blog posts (like this one) or articles on the latest gossip / news / sex scandal, people are forced to read. Granted you can get a fair way without knowing the language, but you can get so much further if you do.
I have joined a number of different sites, recently, that are oriented towards allowing you to submit segments of prose for either critiquing via automated processes or critiquing through the human eye. Some people really should use the automated process first. A number of sites will allow people to submit prose and get the critiqued … for free. People need to use these free facilities.
When you see some of the critiques that people leave on other people’s work one of the first things that people notice are the simple grammar rules that an automated system can detect. Things such as repeated words, missing punctuation, change in spelling (U.S. versus UK) and so on. People notice these things. While many people may not be able to identify a dangling participle, they do no if the proper word is used. (Did you catch that?)
The Internet is not ruining the English language. (Neither is texting.) The Internet is giving us an opportunity to reach more people faster than ever before, but even so, if we want to keep those people that we’ve reached we need to communicate clearly and effectively.
So, I have been reading a schwack of books/articles/blog posts about writing recently:
This is just from the past few days. I use Evernote and it’s Web Clipper to track interesting blog post and web articles in Evernote itself. I am using Scrivener to outlining and writing. I am using it’s Simplenote integration so that I can keep things in sync between my computers and my iPad. On Twitter I am following a number of writing sites like Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Relief.
I have gone completely nuts.
When my doctor told me I had diabetes last year I dove into the nutritional aspect, lifestyle changes, ways to even out blood sugar and even huge tomes of medical advice on the correct proportion of proteins to carbohydrates to fats. I read everything I could and weeded out the crackpots (eat a <insert nutrient here> diet) from scientific studies. In the end I came up with a solution that worked for me.
I seem to be taking that same approach to writing. Everyone who is published keeps saying that in order to be a better writer you need to be a well rounded reader. So I’m reading. Books about writing, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, detective, romance (yes, even romance), children’s, young adult, new adult, etc.
I am overcompensating. I have this intense fear of failure so I am doing whatever I can to minimize that risk, to come up with a full blown, 100% guaranteed method of success. Too bad there isn’t one. There is no 100% guaranteed solution for anything that involves creativity. Where it is writing a novel, writing an application or coming up with the ultimate solution to a problem, there is no guaranteed solution.
Just do your best. That’s all that can be asked of you. Do your best.