This Thursday’s Child–Tools for the Craft

Every beginning novelist has one essential tool, imagination, before he or she ever puts pencil to notebook paper. Soon, the young writer gets feedback from classroom teachers, and learns sentence structure, as well as clustering ideas into paragraphs.

We’ll call that the lumber pile. Stories can start there, and often do.

It doesn’t take long after that and we learn a few literary techniques: descriptive imagery, (oh, did I enjoy that–somewhere there may still be florid middle school essays to prove it, but I’m not saying where), alliteration, simile, and one teacher is sure to introduce us to the source of all variations, the thesaurus and its use.

We take to these with varying levels of enthusiasm. Descriptive imagery provides windows of a sort for our story structures. Alliteration and simile and thesaurus consultation are more for interior decorating than anything else.

Characters live in our structures, and they talk. I was confident in my vocabulary and description skills, but I found my first storytelling weakness in choosing diction for dialogue. Every character sounded like me; worse, they sounded like me trying to impress. I backed off on fiction attempts and stuck to poetry through my college years.

Images, emotions, quotations, they all went down on paper, raw materials at hand. After college, I missed the campus writers’ guild. Eventually, I found an online writer’s forum. I dared to show my poetry there and tried to help others with the skills I had. When someone there challenged me to try fiction, I had to fight again with dialogue, until I decided to compensate by writing conversations as though my characters were talking on the phone.

That made things much more “real”, which is the effect every author aims for. But another problem cropped up. In all my years of continuous wide reading, there was one obvious technique I had not absorbed by osmosis. Point of view, or POV technique. If ever understanding of POV had entered my mind at all, it eroded under the influence of too many stories written by one best-selling author, whom I won’t name.

My writers’ forum friends tried and tried, but even asking myself “Whose paragraph is this, anyway?” had little if any effect. Looks like I’ll be continuing this topic on Tuesday. See you then.

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