author control, creating a world, Ideas for a New Story, personalize, Uncategorized, Voice, Writing

The book that only you can write

The first book I envied was Bel Kaufman‘s Up the DownKaufman'sbook. Staircase. It should have been my book! I knew what it was to cherish language and literature. Like Kaufman’s main character, I was naive enough to think I could instill an appreciation for truth and beauty in my teenage students. My days often felt insane. Why didn’t I put all that together?

Many answers come to mind, but this one tops the list: I didn’t find anything funny about my job. But I loved that book.

For good or bad, I have to write the book that I can write. But how about this: is there a book that can only be written by me?

I think so. And one for you, too, even if you’ve never written anything.

It doesn’t have to be the story of your life or a memoir of a significant time. On a book that only you can write, you’ll stamp not just the drive of your DNA, but ideas and sensory impressions of your lifetime. Doesn’t matter whether you tell the truth as you remember it or create fictional characters and story.

How do you find the book that only you can write?

For a start, don’t imitate. Strive for honest expression. Too many writers try to write the book they love to read and end up with sad copies. Whether you’re writing romance or science fiction, an honest story will come from your understanding and way of seeing. That doesn’t mean you’ll write about yourself. But if you’re honest, readers will know your heart.

What can’t you forget? What do you see? What do you hear? What’s good, what’s evil, what’s just?  Your lifetime impressions lie waiting to be remastered in the book that only you can write.

author control, character change, creating a world, fiction, good characters, The Girl on the Mountain, Writing

The Novelist as Control Freak

It’s been noted before that one of the pleasures of writing fiction is to create and populate a world. How God-like! But novelists get to go farther than God, because they’re engaged in the business of fiction. Without someone manipulating every word and deed, fiction has no life. Writers have control, baby.

So writers get to project events as they’d like them to happen, or as they fear events could happen. As they make characters lovable or despicable, reward and punish them, writers show what they value, whether love, physical attractiveness, superhuman skills, or everyday hard work.

Near the end of The Girl on the Mountain, one of my minor characters tells the main character he’s writing a book similar to Dracula, a novel read by several others in the story and popular in the real world of 1899. She asks why he’s making a story about a monster when there’s so much evil in ordinary people. He says the more grotesque and evil the character, the more the ending will satisfy.

Like my heroine, I think there’s abundant evil in ordinary people. Rather than concocting monsters, I’d much rather explore what is true. But the writer-character (the teacher, Mr. Cooper) makes a valid point. An audience is relieved, after experiencing fictional dread and fear, when a situation ends and resolves in a satisfying way. You know the feeling when your emotions have been stretched, then brought to rest on a good ending. Whew!  It worked out! What a ride!

Here’s a secret: a story doesn’t always work out like the control freak intended. Like real life, fictional events and characters can get out of hand. Writers frequently talk about characters taking on a life of their own, doing things the author didn’t plan. I think this happens when our characters are so well-fleshed-out that what they do and what happens to them becomes inevitable. I wouldn’t have chosen to put my innocent young heroine through so much trouble, but that’s what happened, because of the people I put around her. I found a couple of scenes emotionally difficult to write. If you’ve read the story, you may guess which ones.

So back to the beginning. Writers of fiction may be control freaks, but we’re never totally in control. First we must wrestle with the inevitable. THEN we release the story to readers. Once that happens, readers take over and experience it through the lenses of their own sensibilities. I think that’s a good thing.