The Thing About the Writing Thing
I write stuff because I don’t know how to not write stuff. It’s just something I have always done. I tell stories. Sometimes, when I think they’re interesting enough, I write them down. I would write for myself even if I thought no one else would ever read it.
However, I’m going to be honest right now. I want other people to read it. Not in an academic sort of way. I don’t care if something I write gets put into a textbook and studied 100 years from now. Well, okay, a teeny part of me would be flattered. But let’s be serious. That’s about as likely as winning the lottery. I just want to write stuff that people like. Things that entertain. And, yes, I would like to be paid for it. Because if I get paid for it, I can afford the time to write more of it.
I don’t care about writing a book that has a “moral” or a “message” for the reader. Frankly, if a writer cares more about a story’s message than about the characters and whether the reader is entertained, I’m not interested in reading it. That doesn’t mean entertaining books can’t teach us something. I’m just saying, I don’t believe that should be the primary goal of fiction.
Keats wrote in his letters about the purpose of poetry, saying that:
We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject.—How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, ‘admire me I am a violet! dote upon me I am a primrose! (Selections from Keats’s letters, Poetry Foundation)
I think you could substitute the word “fiction” where he says “poetry.” I don’t read fiction to be lectured to. If I gain some sort of insight after reading a story, that’s a bonus. But first and foremost, I want to be caught up by the words. I want to find the book so engaging that I can’t stop reading it. I want to be excited enough to share it with others.
That’s what I aspire to do as a writer. To create something that fascinates the reader. To tell a story that is worth the telling.
Character Questionnaire from The Script Lab – Whenever I get stuck and can’t seem to make forward motion on a story, I work on character. For me, character is where all story comes from. If you know the characters deeply, then every action and reaction flows from that. You can anticipate what they will say, how they will react in given situations, ways that they will challenge other characters, etc. Sometimes, knowing your character means doing research, though it may also mean simply digging deep within to conjure up those details that make the character come alive for the reader.
One last thing about writing that I want to share is this TED talk video with Amy Tan talking about Where Does Creativity Hide, which is a question I find fascinating as well: