by Rain Trueax
No matter how fantastic your idea and inspiration might be, if you cannot convey them to someone else, they remain yours. Basically, a need for craft is true for most of the arts. Of course, there are natural born talents who create a new way of presenting their ideas. They are rare. Most who write, for example, have either taken classes or studied extensively with manuals that teach basic grammar. Only when you know the rules can you break them with purpose. The big thing in writing is the need to convey the idea in a way someone else can understand.
The case has been made that sites like Twitter are creating a whole new way of communicating, using initials and symbols. My personal belief is the only ideas that may be communicated that way, are shallow. Yes, the first humans used pictures and then hieroglyphics. In many cases, we are still guessing what they meant.
For those who want to write a book, it is important to take time mastering punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. There is a lot to learn to write in a way that does not takes the reader out of the story.
Of course, this is tougher the more educated the reader might be. An English teacher will have higher standards and is more apt to be bothered by misuse of words, commas, and sentence structure. Issues like split infinitives will likely pass right by many readers-- if the sentence still makes sense. Dangling prepositions bother some readers, while others may find avoiding them more disturbing to flow of the story.
For me, writing dialogue is the most fun-- with the least rules-- other than make sure each character speaks in a way that is consistent. To give readers a sense of character by how the person speaks can be a challenge but even more is stimulating. Even there, craft plays a role that goes beyond inspiration. Writing a scene where the word said appears too many times will break the flow. Craft is really all about maintaining the flow. Learning to make a scene project the qualities desired in the characters is a mix of rules and inspiration.
Besides grammar rules, there has to be an understanding of the requirements for each genre. I think this is best done by reading a lot of books in that genre. What readers of science fiction or mystery will accept will not be the same as those reading serious novels or romances. Since a lot of writing today involves a mix of genres, some standards will not be consistent. This is where inspiration comes in. New standards for successful writing evolve as does the culture. That does not mean that I believe LOL belongs in any novel unless the character is typing an e-mail.
So learn the craft, read articles like this one, [10 Rules of Writing]. Craft may seem less interesting than inspiration, but it is the bridge to anyone else reading your work. There are many ways to learn it. I worked one year with a consulting writer, who I had been advised by an agent would improve my romances. This was in the Nineties and even then, it cost about $1500. I would mail her typed pages of my work in progress. She would mail them back, highlighted, with extensive notes in the margins. That work with her was like a class in writing romances, where there are important expectations.
What I advise to any wanting to write--write, I will add to that-- read books on writing. Read articles on writing technique. When you get reviews on that book, your craft will often be remarked upon-- negatively is most apt to show up. It may not seem as important as the inspiration behind your book but without it, nobody else will know because reading it will be a struggle they are not willing to endure.
I think some of this is going to be harder for the generations growing up in a time where learning proper English is not part of a full education. When I was a girl, we learned to diagram sentences. It taught us the parts of a sentence to make it work. We learned to [correctly use tenses]. I keep a cheat sheet by the computer to remind me of the rules. A comma in the wrong spot completely changes the meaning of a sentence.
All of this matters a lot to a writer but also, to someone writing a resume. My hope is that some educational shortcuts will be reconsidered. Yes, a computer can correct your spelling-- if you are anywhere close to the right one. It does nothing when you have to write something in longhand. Yes, craft doesn't seem as exciting to read about or take the time to learn-- especially for those who have come to believe a tweet can say it all. I have two words for that-- it cannot.
Finally, there is the form the story will take. While this might seem to be under the heading of inspiration, there really is a form that is classic, that satisfies a reader, and which takes some experience to master. In my early learning about how to write a scene or chapter, I heard about the W. What this means, is that (this is true for paintings also) when you have a time of excitement, you need a time of rest-- hence, the W. The characters go toward a negative time and then have a respite. Romantic moments are followed by stressful ones.
Joseph Campbell (a link to his work below) spoke of the hero's journey. This is the structure of mythologies which have survived time. In terms of basic adventures, there are only a few that can be used over and over and in different ways. The hero's journey will have certain key points, which writers can learn, using what most applies to their work and what they are trying to create.
It is true today that some so-called literary novels seem pointless as they meander whither and yon with no real seeming ending or purpose. They are sometimes even called classics. The thing is what a culture decides is a classic lasts until a new generation takes over. Our own generation does not get to define a classic for more than itself. I think those who learn forms that carry forth universal themes, their work is most likely to hang around.
A few recommended books on craft:
Next Saturday, inspiration. :)