Saturday, December 10, 2011

Guest Post by Author Cecilia Gray

Best Writing Advice

Most writers in my acquaintance have always wanted to be writers. They were children scribbling crayon onto paper or dragging their fingers through sand. Being a writer was simple when you were a child: you told a story.

Then you grew up.

You began to compile a writer’s tool kit. Learned about character arc. You learned about goal, motivation and conflict. You learned about tension and reversals in plot. You learned about scene structure. You learned about dialogue and making it sound natural. You learned about using setting and senses to bolster all else. You learned about theme and subtext. Yes, you learned a lot of schmancy things.

These are all good things. These are all great things.

But the learning doesn’t stop there. Soon, you begin learning about the marketplace. About gatekeepers like agents and editors. About social networking and promotional opportunities. Even about this blog – here – this very blog that I am writing for this very specific promotional opportunity. I learned this. You learn about trends and vampires and werewolves and dystopia. Maybe, just maybe, you even learn that the marketplace doesn’t want your story. Not how it is.

Somewhere along the way, you learn to think like a business person.

This is also a good thing. Sometimes, this is a great thing.

I’m guilty of being bogged down in minutiae and detail. I have thought to myself: what’s the craziest thing that could happen right here to make the reader sit up and gasp? What clever way can I insert the thematic tone of forgiveness into this arc and can I somehow make this weeping willow tree a physical touchstone of that theme????

When I find myself going down that rabbit hole, I have pull my way out by holding on to a simple, timeless piece of advice: tell an honest story.

It’s deceptively simple. We forget we’re natural storytellers. Look at a cave drawing if you don’t believe me. Consider the epic oral tradition of storytelling in our ancestry. For all that drags the human race apart we can agree on this one basic unifying factor: we are all storytellers.

We tell stories every day. And we want to be told a good story, too.

Every time I meet up with my friends and I ask how their day has been. Every time I turn on the television. Every time I open a book. I am looking for a story? Why – because I want to connect with it, with people, with the world around me.

To connect with the story, a reader needs to find it honest.

No, I don’t mean non-fiction.

I mean honest.

If you consider the most speculative, successful story franchise – Star Wars – and you wipe away the storm troopers and the Force and the Evil Empire and the Death Star and hyperdrive

space travel or whatever else goes on in there, you have the battle for independence against a physically, but not morally, superior force, you have courage and friendship, and you have a boy searching for the truth of his identity.

These are all honest things.

Whenever my friends and I disagree over whether a story/movie/book was good, I find I can boil the reasoning down to our interpretation of honest.

Take this year’s blockbuster, The Help by Kathryn Sockett. This book and its movie remains a top of love-hate debate amongst my group of friends. The ones who hate it feel the language isn’t authentic and neither are the feelings between the women and the ones who love it feel the exact opposite. (Which camp I inhabit will remain a mystery…or not so much a mystery if you spend five minutes on my Goodreads account.)

Writing an honest story takes care of everything.

In an honest story, a character will say what they must. (Dialogue class, check.)

In an honest story, a character will do what they must. (Plot class, check.)

In an honest story, natural themes will emerge. (Pretentious class, check.)

In an honest story, you will write the story you want, and in doing so you will find your most natural audience. Best of all, writing an honest story will make you happy about your writing.

So there it is – the best advice I’ve received, the best advice I have. Honestly.

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