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by Tina Morgan
The elements of a novel are illustrated in dozens of how-to manuals and websites. As beginning writers, we visit these sites and read the books in an effort to craft the perfect fiction stories. We take classes and workshops. We write exercises and outlines, but how far can these go to improve the quality of our writing?
As a member of several on-line writers' groups, I am always amazed by the number of writers who timidly toss out story ideas and ask if the group feels they're worth pursuing. Character exercises and setting descriptions flow through my in-box almost as quickly as the porn spam. Unlike the ads to enlarge my non-existent male anatomy, I actually read these and I wonder how I can help these inexperienced writers gain the confidence they deserve.
Unfortunately there is no magic spell that can bestow this gift. It has to be earned but not in the way you might think. Becoming published isn't the only way to build confidence in your writing. Ask yourself this question:
If a musician, athlete or scholar is expected to practice and study to improve their talents, then why isn't a storyteller?
Why do we expect to put pen to paper and create a masterpiece the first time we try? Many of us have played games of skill, studied for a test, or learned to play an instrument. We knew we had to work to improve; yet we don't carry that expectation over to our writing.
In an interview with Orson Scott Card, he told me, "And since every writer has about ten thousand pages of utter drivel in them, you might as well start now so you can get a good portion of that out of your way while you're still young. After all, you learn more about writing from writing a 100,000-word manuscript than you ever will from any writing class or writing book (and I say that as a teacher of writing classes and a writer of writing books)."
We have to practice. We have to work to improve our talent. It doesn't matter how old we are. It doesn't matter what level of talent we have. We will never improve if we don't start somewhere.
So don't question your story ideas. Write them. Put them to paper and then put them away for a day, a week, or a month. Read a new author. Try a new genre. Then go back and reread what you've written. How does the story affect you? Do you feel you've captured that elusive element of 'storytelling' and not just written what the how-to books and classes tell you is required?
The writers we remember are those that tell a good story. Even if they work from a formulaic plot, we continue reading them because they're "storytellers". They don't just "talk" on the page, they tell a story that comes to life and lives inside our mind while we read. Some of them write flowery prose that almost sings, while others remind us of down home relatives talking about everyday things. Whatever their style, we read each page with anticipation.
© Copyright 2002 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved
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