I’d like to compile some kind of well thought out, articulate discussion outlining the finer points of exceptional writing versus exceptional story-telling, but alas, I lack the eloquence. Or, at least, the insight.
For a while now, I’ve had niggling concerns about the quality of my writing and, not until recently, did it finally hit me. I’ve come to realise that my writing, the actual technical side of things, sentence-by-sentence, is pretty good, with a decent voice and a good use of language. Only when it comes to the art of story-telling as a whole do I grow concerned.
I’ve never had the patience or the discipline to sit down and plot my stories. I’m a pantser, by nature. I like to sit down and write a story when I have some elements and components developed, like characters and events. I know very little, comparatively, about my story when the first words hit the page.
Reading, and reading extensively, is one of the best ways to gain an understanding of narrative structure. This is how we learn, from an early age, how to write. Perhaps before we’ve realised that’s what we’re doing. I do see this structure in my writing, I see the hero’s journey sometimes, I see an acceptable formula, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something, or that something is missing. This ‘something’, whatever it may be, is a burr in my foot, a thorn in my side and it’s infuriating.
Practice is the best way to improve it, perhaps pulling that ‘something’ out of a hat somewhere down the line. I believe I’m a good writer, but I’m not so certain about my capacity to tell compelling, thoughtful stories. Again, that can only improve with practice, feedback and more practice. My writing has already come a long, long way in the past year and a half. It can only get better.
For too long, I’ve been heaping the pressure on myself, I’ve been driving myself to write, in part because I’m good at it, but largely because I feel like it’s the only way I can contribute an income short of getting stuck in a dead-end job. I’m aware of the realities of course; writing doesn’t become a sustainable career with ease. I need to support myself in the long run. Fortunately, I have a very supportive partner who’s prepared to support me whilst I work on my craft. Also, I’ve been determined to make a successful career as a writer so that I can repay all the loans my parents have made to me over the years. Short of winning the lottery, I’ve determined that writing is the only way I can support myself, my lesser half, my parents, future children. And, quite frankly, it’s just ridiculous. For reasons I won’t get into here, but reasons which can safely be equated with those suffered by all tortured artists over the years, gainful employment is a bit beyond my reach at this point.
What it boils down to is this: I need to write for the enjoyment of it. Not because I want to make a career out of it, or because I’ll feel like I’ve failed at life if it doesn’t work out that way, but because I enjoy it. I need to remember how to enjoy writing. That’s the most important thing, as it stands, there is no greater source of frustration in my life than my views on the works I produce.
This post was never, in truth, supposed to be such an introspective piece. I had initially wanted to compose some kind of comparison between what I feel to be two very distinct elements of our craft. But it all ties in, I think. At the end of the day, all I can do is write and learn. Anyway, whilst I’m not sure I made any kind of coherent point, I think I’ll stop it there, and share a piece of my writing, since I think it’s way over due.
The following is an excerpt from my new story, entitled ‘The Black Spider Letters.’
In the firelight, the crystal glittered.
Loic held his glass aloft, a wicked grin upon his face cast ominously by the dancing embers.
“Job done,” he said quietly to the gathering.
“Done well,” offered Insou, white teeth shining out amongst shadowed, chocolate coloured skin. Sat beyond the fire, wrapped tight within a fur-lined, threadbare cloak, he raised his own glass in thanks to the Three Drunk Gods and their kind favour.
Silently, Loic praised the iniquitous trio, enjoying the press of a wealth-laden sack at his side. Without them, their efforts might have been ill-rewarded.
To either side of the Ghoderan sat Sweet, her heart-shaped face contorted with the pain of keeping the Vesper at bay, and Logha, eyes cast downward, inspecting the dirt at his feet.
The pair’s sobriety nudged the smile from Loic’s face. His mood shifted sharply as he regarded the two. Brow knotting, sneer slipping into place, he drew the glass to his lips and drained its contents. Harsh, even for his tastes, the deadeye burned his throat and chest.
Loic reached into the sack beside him, felt like he was reaching into a snake’s wedding and slipped his fingers through a tangle of necklaces and bejewelled girdles.
Carelessly, he pulled the items from the bag and threw them over the fire. Gold and silver glittered as they arced through the air, landing with a soft clatter beyond their makeshift hearth.
“You see nothing worth smiling at?” he asked, gesturing with an open hand at the pile of gaud, his voice dangerously low. It was no secret what lay within him at further prodding. Perhaps the threat would cease their maudlin idlings.