Running late today – getting an internet connection has been a little tricky. Of course I am completely relaxed. BTW do you like my new profile shot to the left there?
I was thinking about writing craft and how as writers we gradually extend our skills and accumulate bits and pieces of knowledge. Anything of worth seems to come pretty hard indeed. The question I was asking myself was – what is the single best Gem I have learned? It’s a hard question to answer, and probably impossible because everything in writing seems to be interrelated. The knowledge and realisations that will enhance one person’s writing may be unhelpful for another. Each writer approaches their work from a unique perspective. Each will do some things instinctively, struggle with others and have unique blind spots.
After a bit of consideration, I decided that just going chronologically would be the easiest approach. For me, the first Gem was understanding the importance of plot. My first novel draft was written off the cuff with just the smell of a story. That was fun, but it quickly derailed into a mess that was going nowhere. I binned it. After that I spent more than four months writing out (by hand) a sketch for every single scene, right down to key pieces of dialogue and movement. This enabled me to play with subplots and get a sense for overall arcs. I don’t go to that level of detail anymore, but I do plan the whole story by chapter and scene.
After that, the biggest penny drop was at a short workshop on story writing. The presenter outlined a simple framework of three interrelated elements: CHARACTER, SETTING, CONFLICT. That really enhanced my writing, particularly short story writing. I think this was when I realised that Setting has to be integral to the story – so integral that the setting cannot be removed from the story. The acid test being that if the setting element can be removed from the story then it is not supporting it – a capital crime for a short story where every element must pull its weight.
Then – and this was derived after a long, slow slog, rather than a lightbulb moment – I understood the role of point of view. Over a long period of time I learned to control it and use it. I learned to convey what a character was thinking from another character’s PoV through gestures, hesitations and leading dialogue.
I have increased my understanding of creating both emotional resonance and character sympathy – hook – but I think I’m in for a long haul before I have the mastery I need. This is what I really want to understand right now.
What are your greatest Gems? What do you want to learn next? Better still – what are your killer tips on creating emotional resonance and hooking a reader?