Everyone thinks they are a writer. And as I say in “Gods Mourn Too”, most people can write (maybe not well, but nonetheless, they can formulate a coherent sentence). But not everyone is a writer deep down in the core; and, many simply can’t produce something of substance, of change, of authority.
I’ve many acquaintances published by major publishing houses, with books riddled with not only errors, but also lack of substance. Publishing isn’t what it used to be. As a child, and a child of a librarian, book publishing used to be something unique, something almost unreachable, something where the best of the best writers would go as if on Mt. Zion and shine their knowledge upon us. And we would sit back in awe and eagerly feed on their rich words and grow from them.
It’s not like that anymore. It’s about what will sell; and current trends. No longer are the times where we can expect or get substance or longevity. And, that’s the sad part about writing. The majority of writing and publishing are simply produced to fill an immediate trend.
But whether you are published traditionally or independently, there are still ways to make your writing stand out and have a tad more quality in the long run.
- Research. I always say I’m not just a writer, but also I’m an unofficial archaeologist–I dig things up. I investigate my findings. I watch the news. I read. I investigate my problem and try to analyze them so I can expand on them in my writings. Characters are real. They should be as interested in the world around them as we are. Despite writing fiction, your story deserves to have real moments described in it. How did the fall of the Berlin Wall affect your character; if it took place in 2001, how about the after effects of 9/11? The list can go on. Research that time point. Characters deserve to be developed to their fullest potential and have their own identity.
One of the worse things to do is describe each character by the physical attributes when they walk in the room. Let their essence describe them. Let the way they walk, talk, and communicate with others be the what really describes them. Sit back and research human behavior. Sit in the park one day and research how people move their hands when they speak, walk, or even talk to themselves. Analyze them. Each person is intricately different. Finally, your research in daily news and questioning the whys and hows and whens will also assist in character and story development.
- Dialogue. Next time you watch TV or talk to friends, listen. Listen to their isms. We, as humans, have our own style in which we speak. There are some people who always start their conversations the same way; others may have their go-to words they tend to overuse; many tend to repeat the same phrase or story over and over. Listen to the uniqueness of your friends, yourself, and others. It’s an opportunity to understand our differences and recreate unique voices for each character. Despite the close bond created in The Son of Leviticus short story between two young men, I manipulated the dialogue between them representing an obvious sense of naivete and dominance (and even racism).
- Location. You don’t have to directly mention the city and state in which the story takes place. But you do need to know about it. I’ve a friend who was writing a story where the main character lived in France. My friend literally spent two weeks in France, mapped-out an area, the stores, the eateries, the amazing food and wines and documented it all for the sake of his character. Everything was chronicled in a journal with photography of people, places, and even menus. When you know a location, you can mention the foods, the streets, the weather and going back to #2 (the dialogue). In turn, the intended audience of your book will know where it takes place without an elementary description.
- Opinions. One of the best things about this world is the varied opinions. From abortion, to politics, to race relations, to religion–we’re bound to never agree 100%. And that’s fine. With that said, your characters shouldn’t be in 100% in agreement with each other OR with you. Create characters you simply don’t like. Create die-hard characters who also challenge you as a writer and the characters in their every day life.
- Poetry. Even if you are a fiction writer, practice poetry. Description is my strong point. I always say I was a poet first. But the older I get the more I need various forms of writing to properly emote. With poetry, real poetry, classic poetry, you have to study it; study the rhythm even if there’s no rhyme; study the simplicity, the beauty even in darkness. There’s a unique type of editing that happens when crafting poetry–each word is concise and purposeful. You can implement this type of careful word choice and limitation into your fiction.
[Stephen Earley Jordan II is the author of several books of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. He has also directed and written a few award-winning short, experimental films. Check out his latest book published January 2022, Gods Mourn Too: Essays on Writing and Questions for Thought.]