When I first started writing, I didn’t realize that writing was a craft.
At first, I thought writing meant just “telling stories.”
My first completed manuscript attempted to tell a story – the fictional “history” of Borte Ujin, first wife of Genghis Khan. The agents who read the manuscript offered nearly identical feedback: great idea, solid pacing, interesting voice – but the characters seemed flat and uninspired, and the dialogue needed more action.
I wrote another book, adding dialogue tags and descriptive adverbs–oh, so many adverbs. (I shudder to think about it, even now.)
Once again, I was told my characters seemed two-dimensional, bordering on “precious.”
It wasn’t until much later – years down the line – that I recognized the problem. Characters require more than dialogue tags to come alive. They need a fully-realized world and lives that started before page 1 and continue after “the end.” (Unless they’re dead. In that one case, you can leave them where they lie.)
This realization sparked my interest in writing as a craft – in doing more than simply putting a limited story on a page. That, in turn, sparked yet another epiphany: Good writing requires growth and constant effort to improve.
In other words, a writer can–and should–continue to learn and improve with every manuscript, every sentence, and every day.
Which means I’m on a never-ending quest to improve my writing and push my prose to a higher state. For me, that involves a three-pronged approach: I read, I write, and I consider written words (my own and those of other authors). It’s difficult, and time-consuming, but in the end the results are more than worth it.
I cannot say I’ll never write another flat character, or lose another scene to purple prose. However, I’ll be doing my best to avoid it, and to get better with every sentence, every scene, and every book I write.
How do you feel about writing as craft? What steps do you take to improve? Do you have a favorite author whose writing inspires you, either as a reader or as an artist?
* Note: This entry originally posted in January, 2013. Please forgive the re-post (which I did edit a bit), but I’m down with a serious case of the plague flu and couldn’t manage a new entry for today. Still, if you haven’t read it…it’s new to you!