Dad, you write like a theologian. Or worse yet, like a lawyer.
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.
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.