Friday, August 1, 2014


I believe I shall scribe a literary work of fantastic invention
Last time I wrote about how an author should read not just to enjoy, but to learn and grow as an author.  This week I want to suggest something related, but in reverse.

When you write, the first person you have to please and write for is yourself.  If you don't write the book you want to not only finish writing but read, then you're going to find it very difficult to finish the book, and it will be done without passion and a love of writing.  In short, its going to suck.

You also have to satisfy your editor(s) by avoiding spelling and grammatical errors as well as striving to keep your book internally consistent and without contradiction or contrivance.

But ultimately your book is meant to be read.  I don't know anyone who goes through all the trouble of writing an entire book and publishing it that does not want their work to be read.  And that means you need to write like a reader.

Writing like a reader means you don't use long, complicated, flowery words or sentence constructions out of the sheer beauty of writing.  There are times when writing becomes such an artistic endeavor that the writer can forget that their task is communication and, in fiction, storytelling.  There's a place for this kind of thing, of course.  When J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write The Lord of the Rings he wasn't trying to tell a story, he was trying to tell an Epic.

And I don't mean "dude that was epic!!!" I mean Epic as in a certain kind of literary structure such as Beowulf or The Odyssey.  An Epic in this sense deals not with really awesome scenes of carnage and impressive activity, but with grand, extensive tales of greatness and heroism.  Its not so much about being impressive as being huge in spirit and scope.  Covering years and vast mileage, dealing with great themes and concepts.

Originally literary Epics were poems, but prose versions started to be crafted, and Tolkien wanted to make his own, for England.  And that's what the Lord of the Rings became, so his style is more literary and florid than people are used to and is best for publication.

Its not that you shouldn't use big words or have intelligent prose.  The point I'm trying to get to is that you need to write in a way that doesn't interfere with reading.  If you can get by with the word "use" then don't type "utilize."  You gain nothing except pretentiousness and take up more space on the page.

Also, write in a way that you want to read in terms of themes and style.  While you can write an incredibly depressing, awful book about ghastly events without anything uplifting do you really want to?  A relentlessly depressing novel about misery and failure where everything bad happens without hope or victory would probably get you rave reviews from some folks.  Sometimes it seems like what defines "literary fiction" is that exact sort of tone.

But do you really want to read something like that?  Its fun as an author to come up with challenges but sometimes the challenges become so outrageously horrific and the things you put a character through so sadistically awful that you can offend or upset readers, pushing them away.  If you've crossed over into the role of literary torturer, its probably time to dial it back a bit.

My outline might be getting out of control
And then there are times when we as writers get so wrapped up in concepts and themes we forget to just tell the story.  Especially after taking a class on writing or studying literature authors can become fascinated with the 3-part structure of the heroic journey, the use of the chiasm, or creating the perfect metaphorical structure that we lose sight of just telling a good tale.

When the mechanics of how many words you've written or how long a chapter is start getting in the way of writing, you lose your readers, too.  The way to best write as a reader is to write what moves you, what you enjoy, and what flows from your inspiration instead of what you can cleverly design and craft using the best techniques and flowcharts.
Because the entire purpose of this exercise is to be read, isn't it?