The Writer’s Craft
Dad, you write like a theologian. Or, a historian. Or worse yet, like a lawyer.
So said my eldest daughter, herself a poet and free lance writer, upon reading the first pages of my first draft.
You need to learn craft, Karin said, and she provided a list of books on the craft of fiction writing and also pointed me toward the Loft Literary Center in Mpls.
So, I took a break from writing and dedicated myself to learning how to write fiction – not theology, not history, not a legal brief. Show, don’t tell. Character development. Suspense and tension. Plot. Narrative summary. Point of View: first person, third person, omniscient, limited omniscient. Scene and setting. A “hook” at the beginning. Internal conflict. External conflict. Avoid adverbs altogether and use adjectives only sparingly. Strong verbs and precise nouns. Dialogue.
For me, there were three aspects to learning craft: studying the craft books suggested by my daughter, participation in the workshops and seminars of The Loft, and reading acclaimed authors with a critical eye and not for the pure pleasure of it. My recommendations for helpful craft books are cited at the bottom of this page.
Wannabe writers in Minnesota are blessed to have The Loft Literary Center of Mpls whose mission is “to foster a writing community, the artistic development of individual writers, and an audience for literature”. It is a place where “writers learn from other writers.” Their catalogue of workshops and seminars is extensive. Beginning in the fall of 2007, I became a regular attendee which turned out to be helpful, rewarding, and a heap of fun with many interesting, new friends. In particular, the opportunity for feedback on my own writing, with equal doses of support and criticism, was invaluable.
I wrote in the morning and read in the afternoon. Along with Pauline theological, historical, Biblical treatises and essays, I picked up Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Wolfe, John Cheever, John Steinback, Raymond Carver, James Baldwin, and others but with a different point of view. No longer did I read only for enjoyment but for “how to” instruction. I also read Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain for examples of historical fiction. Lastly, I read the classics of Biblical fiction including Lloyd Douglas’ The Robe, Par Lagerkvist’s Barabbas, and Anita Diamont’s The Red Tent.
Did I learn my lessons? Only my readers can be the judge of that, but I think I am proof that writers are made, not born. To be sure, a basic level of intelligence helps, but in the end it is persistence and perspiration that becomes inspiration and craft becomes creativity. Write. Write. Write. Read. Read. Read. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.