The Three Facets of a Good Writer

There’s always talk in my writing circles about being a good writer. And most of the time, it’s within the context of how to become a better writer. Typically with respect to omitting needless words and avoiding frilly adverbs. At face value, this doesn’t sound unusual. A social group of gardeners would talk about how to increase plant yield. Musicians would discuss ways to improve their chops. Bloggers would examine ways to better alienate readers and decrease traffic.

But I have one issue with much of this talk about improving writing skills. Why? Well, let’s first ask ourselves: what is a writer? Technically speaking, anyone who writes. Blog post? You’re a writer! Quick email to a friend? Yep, you too! Grocery list? Congrats!

Except that’s not really what we’re talking about. In the colloquial sense of the term, when we say writer, we generally mean a novelist. And having good writing skills is only one facet of producing a novel.

The mechanics of writing are important: syntax, grammar, and being able to take a particular thought and take that thought and string it into an assembly of words in a row that is the best way to put those words into communication.

But good writing does not a novel make. You must also be a good storyteller. And this is where things get tricky. Because good language skills can be defined, taught, and learned. Good storytelling skills are another thing completely. It’s easy to say, “Once upon a time there was a princess and she was locked away in a tower until one day an ogre and a donkey came to save her. They escaped the dragon. They defeated the evil lord. And they lived happily ever after.” That’s a story. And apart from lacking a great amount of detail, it works. But it’s really hard to assemble the story in such a way that critics would use words like “gripping” to describe it.

But even harder than that? It’s the third facet. And I don’t know of any way in the world any external entity can help with this: imagination. Before you can put words in a pleasing order. Before you can spin them into a gripping tale. You need a good idea. When asked, the typical question by most successful novelists is, “It just popped in my head.” Once a story is written, we never really think of what went into its inception. And once we read, hear, or see it, we just assume that coming up with a story is the easy part.

And maybe it is easy. If you think about how many new stories that are produced across all forms of media in any given year. Millions of books published. Thousands of television shows produced. Hundreds and hundreds of movies released. Then multiply that by ten (maybe more) for all the ones that never make it as far as production. Multiply that by one hundred (maybe more) for all the ones that stopped at really good, solid elevator pitches. They’re still stories, even if just a few hundred words.

So easy to come up with a story.

So easy.

So . . . uh . . . anyone want to share one with me? 🙂

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