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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

December 2014

So, as 2014 winds down…….

……..and 2015 fast approaches, I’ve been ruminating on some observations and thoughts that have occurred to me over the last year.

Turns out, they also make good writing points.

*Every experience you have, the good, the bad, the ugly, belongs to you. This, of course, also means that the other people in those experiences are bringing their truths/reality to the same situation, thus creating a conflicting dynamic. You can’t control that in life, so let it go. Putting it in a story, however, adds some rich texture to the plot and characters.

*People are complex creatures, but they are also pretty black and white. A good-hearted person can have a moment of coldness, and a narcissist can have a moment of genuine empathy. What happened in those moments before that caused them to behave in such a manner? At the end of the day, this makes them human. This is a good thing to remember when developing characters and giving them motivation.

*There are stories everywhere – in a bar, on a crosswalk, in a room where the packing of books and other items occur. Who are these people? Why are they in that place, in that moment? Why did this person order this particular book/item? Where? When? What? How? Every person you meet, every situation or place you walk into, has a story to tell. Find it.

*Life is unpredictable, chaotic. This is okay. Stories should also be unpredictable and chaotic, but the nice thing is, you get to control the story. Life is not so easy, but you can at least manage the sails enough to navigate the waters in good times and bad. Sometimes, the story can act as the ballast or the anchor as you go.

These are my thoughts, such as they are. You may find them helpful and insightful or you may not. That’s the way the ball bounces.

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And now a word from Anne Lamott……..

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Anne Lamott
author, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

So, one of the things I like to do…….

……when writing in a particular genre is to read as much of what’s been written before I decide to try my hand at it. It helps me to get a sense of style and word choice within a specific setting (one’s characters are not going to be speaking 21st Century slang in 31st Century society. Or 11th Century BCE society, either). It’s also helpful in seeing how other authors develop mood, setting and location, as well as character.

This goes for every genre, from the Western to the Mystery to Historical to Erotica, a genre that relies heavily on evoking a wide variety of sensations and emotions that lead to a specific….well, climax.

There is the argument floating around that reading works by others in the genre you want to write in is harmful in that it may ‘influence’ your own work. This is true, but not in the way you’d think. Reading the newspaper influences you. Reading poetry, or historical non-fiction, or biographies or archaeology or whatever you pick up to read is going to influence what you write. The more you read, the more  you learn about language, about style, about story and character and development.

Not reading the genre you want to write in only hurts your own work. Why? Well, in addition to not seeing what’s out there, you’d also fail to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. You’d never know how, with your own unique perspective, you could approach the Epic Quest Fantasy. Or the Space Opera. Or find a new twist on the Western or Mystery.

If you read enough (and I highly recommend reading everything you can get your hands on), you can see how similar the genres actually are. What makes them different is the emphasis – a mystery with a dash of romance could be the inverse of a romance with a dash of mystery. A historical novel set in real place could be, with just a few changes and a splash of magic, an epic fantasy. A Western is just an adventure on horseback, whereas Science Fiction is an adventure on a spaceship.

So read. Read the Ancient Greeks, Shakespeare, pulp fiction, genres you love and the ones you don’t like, authors you despise as well as the ones you admire. Read history and biographies and true crime, to learn how real people behaved and real events played out.

When you read, always seek to be entertained, but be conscious of how language, story and characters are handled.

What book and/or author was your greatest influence? Was it more than one? A specific genre?

So, by observing my surroundings…….

……my intent is to process the mood, emotions and other chaotic elements of what I see into the story, the characters and their surroundings. This is helpful in two ways – one, I have details that I can attribute to one or more characters and enrich the story and two, I can see an inevitable end to the course that’s been set by chance (or a few choice words on paper).

Of course, as the writer, you might think I have ultimate control over how things pan out with the characters, but I don’t. They’re just as taciturn and ornery as the people I meet in a bookstore or a bar or, well, anywhere. That I arrive at the ending I planned on is always a bonus, but getting there has always been a road trip on the back roads of America (or Europe or Africa, for that matter) without the use of a map. Adventurous? Yes. Recommended? That depends – some writers/authors use outlines, others don’t. Personal preference.

But I digress.

I write about the things I’ve experienced or observed to better process and understand them.  I’ve seen some head-scratching incidents and behaviors that had me in a state of perplexity. I’m only half-successful in that I can recreate those situations to a certain degree and have the outcome turn out in a way that makes sense to me, but wouldn’t necessarily occur in real life. At least, that’s been my experience.

And I suppose that’s the way of Life and the way of Fiction or Art of any kind – one that Is and the other is How I Perceive It.

So, it’s occurred to me……

……that one of the reasons why I write is to understand the dynamics of life I see around me. The chaotic swirl of words, a look, body language and tone can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing to me, so I write about it. The results make for a good story, but often leaves me still groping for understanding in the real world.

It’s the “Why?”, always the “Why?” and it never seems to end.

I’m not complaining, far from it, but whenever I think I’ve got an “a-ha!” moment of clarity, it skitters off in a direction I didn’t expect and I’m left more puzzled than before.

What are the reasons that brought you to writing?

And now a word from Ursula K. LeGuin…….

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well, they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”

~ URSULA LE GUIN
author, A Wizard of Earthsea

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