Ally Bishop at Upgrade Your Story offered a brilliant challenge to writers in 2017, and I took time to noodle it and respond. If you’re a writer who doesn’t get excited about New Year’s resolutions (short-lived or beaten into submission for months on end) this idea may be encouraging. Take a peek at the question:
What do you personally want out of your writing this year? This is just for you. It’s not word count, a finished manuscript, or sales. What do you want from the craft?
As a writer, I want to craft authentic, believable characters on the page, the kind that draw readers in and captivate them for a while. A story can be plot-driven, but there’s no substitute for meaningful characters we fall in love with, cry with, or want to support and protect in light of the events or other characters in the story. A character whose temptations and choices make a reader say out loud “No-o-o-o, you don’t want to do that!” or “Yes-s-s-s! I’m so proud of you!” really works on the page and has the potential to make a difference in the reader’s life.
Real people have real, felt impact on others’ lives. For better or worse, lives are changed by relationships. (I want to write about that!) The characters on the page interact with one another, with me (the writer), and the reader. There’s powerful potential right there! But life isn’t scripted, and it’s not narrated as like some play-by-play scrawled on the page. A reader needs enough detail to construct a sensible scene, and their grey matter takes it from there.
One skill I’d love to master is telling a good story with these kinds of characters but giving just the right amount of detail. In the name of “clarity” I spell everything out. (I can almost hear myself say it—“No reader is going to misunderstand me!” ) Goodness! Readers are ever more clever than I give them credit for. If I tell them everything—which requires more words than a reader could possibly want to invest in—I’ll just end up boring them to death.
Now, all that up there is awesome, but there’s one little monkey wrench in the whole thing. My WIP is a memoir. So, the another part of this craft “focus” for 2017 is connected to embracing reality (I’m writing a familiar character, me!), finding the significance in the story (Why should a reader invest their time, mind, and heart in this?), and exploring the purpose of the story (A story has powerful potential, and I want to unleash that!).
I try to guard against the ugly places a memoir can go. This isn’t the time to craft cathartic “yack” on the page. But I don’t want to ignore the significant people, events, and experience that could benefit others. As I think about it, this is the time to explore the potential in my story and discover its shape, size, and weight.
Ally suggested writing vignettes to process pieces of story (changing the POV from my own to someone else’s), and I think that might be the perfect solution to some of the memoir mayhem. I tried it once and liked it—the difference between I and she was stark and wonderful. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Let’s see where the rabbit runs in 2017…
Thanks for reading along! If you’re planning writing goals for this year, I’d love to see what you’re thinking about. Let me know where you’re sharing them so I can take a little look-see.