Why does anyone become a writer? You could reply facetiously like Michael Frome, a well-known writer on conservation, who answered: “If I didn’t write, I might have to work for a living. Shaving every day and all that!” The truth is no-one chooses a career of writing … it chooses you. Like music or painting, writing is a compulsion for some people – it doesn’t matter much whether they are composing deathless prose or writing recipes, but they have to write.
In practical terms, anyone can be a writer. It’s about the only profession where you need no capital at all. The computer is a sophisticated tool, but the world’s most famous writers managed without one. But the qualities that are indispensable – you obviously need talent; and you need an ego to have the nerve to believe that anything you say, others are going to want to read. Determination and optimism because the road to success is lined with hundreds of rejection slips. You also need enormous self-discipline – there is no office to run to between 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. You must force yourself to face that blank sheet of paper every day and sit there and do battle, when outside the birds are singing; the telephone rings; there’s a great program on TV;friends drop by and there are a million delicious distractions to seduce you away from your work if you let them.
But if you don’t – if you actually start to fill the pages and know you have something worth saying, then you wouldn’t change what you’re doing if you could control empires. Writing is the supreme act of creation and, while you are engaged in it, there’s a bubbling happiness that nothing else can equal.
In the next few Blogs, I’ll teach you how to write a short story. To be effective, it must convey something from writer to reader. There are no rules except that to qualify. it should be able to be read at a single sitting. Like a novel, it should depict character moved by plot. It needs to maintain a single point of view to stay in focus.
Your story begins when the confusing outer show of things can be swept aside, when something happens which gives access to the secret pulse of life. A story is a quest for life, both for the writer and the reader.
Life provides the greatest source of material. But life, with its constant needs, its weight, its multiplicity, has a certain rawness, which is its power. Your role is to refine and sift. A story is an impression of life, but never a copy. In both life and story there are moments that stand out – revelations, conflict, drama, decisions – almost as if time had waited for such a moment to happen.
First we’ll focus on the subject and theme. The subject is almost always a character, a place or a situation… the are of focus. The theme is the general comment on this area of human experience conveyed through such specific elements as plot, characterization, tone, point of view, imagery and symbol. For example, the subject of your story might be a woman, whom you’ve called Karen. Your theme might be that she has wasted her life on dreams of the past. Your subject might be love, with the theme that the kind of love John has for Ruth leads only to self-destruction.
When you decide on the subject and theme of the story you want to write, respect your own background enough to write about it. It may sound exciting to write a sophisticated story about the morals of a group of jetsetters on a skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps, but if you’ve never mixed with such a clique, or even been to Switzerland, your story will be shallow and unconvincing. You could write a really deep, compassionate story about people you know in the setting of the street or suburb where you live. It would have far more meaning and be more perceptive and enlightening for your reader.
HOMEWORK: Write a description of someone you once met or knew who made a deep impression on you, even though your lives might have crossed only once. It can be someone you met at a party; someone you glimpsed on a bus; someone who was wise or had charisma; or even a drop-out from society, but still made a vivid impression.
Stop and think of something or someone very meaningful to you. Write down what situation, place or kind of person you would like to be subject. What would be your theme – that is, what kind of comment would you make on this subject.
We’ll move on to plot in my next Blog. Happy writing!
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