An author friend of mine mentioned on Facebook a little while ago that a concerned mother at one of his book signings came up to him and seemed to hold a strong view, in his words, that “any books not based in fact (read as “fiction in any form”) was not worth reading.” I gave my thoughts in the comment thread of this post, but wanted to bring them up again because I love what I’ve learned from experts about what story (including fiction) is and why it is so valuable.
From an evolutionary psychology perspective (my favorite way to look at things), our capacity for language (grammar in particular), for imagining the impossible, for developing crazy-sophisticated technology, and for experiencing morality are all connected through our capacity and need to establish and maintain complex social bonds. This means that we humans have the incredible capacity to convey sophisticated internal sentiments, concepts, boundaries, and experiences to one another in a way that incites complex physiological (sensations, emotional resonance) and social reactions in one another. With that in mind, the power of story is a fundamental part of what makes us human. Fiction really does have the power to open our minds to new possibilities, gives us better tools and alternate perspectives to approach and solve problems, and allows us to see our everyday activities and interaction in a new light. Fiction does have value–incredible value. Like other forms of artistic expression, it’s a fundamental part of what makes us the incredible creatures we are.
What’s been fascinating for me as an author over the years is to sit on (and sit in on) panels with other authors and listen to them describe how they come up with great stories–from Larry Correia and Kevin J. Anderson, to Michaelbrent Collings, Candace J. Thomas, David Butler, and Angie Lofthouse (among many, many wonderful authors I’ve had the privilege to come to know in person). While many share similar strategies, no two authors visualize, plan, or build their story elements exactly the same way. At the heart of any story are emotions–conflicts that need to be resolved. But every author has their own flavor of conflict that we like to see and create. The things that motivate us to convey these ideas also vary.
We have different life experiences, different challenges and interests, different things that matter to each of us (or that frighten and bother us, in the case of writing horror). As a result, no two authors will have exactly the same style or approach. It isn’t always easy to deduce how to develop our own styles simply by listening to other authors describe their creative processes, I’ve discovered. Developing my own style has taken a lot of practice: a lot of getting down the basics, a lot of honing, a lot of trial and error. But taking notes and pondering how a variety of others do what they do–from setting up an opening scene with a great plot and interesting characters, to dealing with writer’s block and time-management–has given me a little window into each author’s soul, if you will, as well as strategies and insights into how to tap into my own “reservoir of genuine” to build my own creative writing skills.
I think its good practice for me as a writer to describe my creative process from time to time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I expect that my process will continuously change over time as my views and understanding of writing fiction continue to expand. This means I may change my mind on strategies that I think work well, or on my overall approach to the creative process over time. I think that’s a big part of the adventure of discovering and developing one’s own voice and style. Explaining one’s individual process to others is a skill unto itself, and one, I think, that often takes a bit of courage. We writers and artists recognize that we are still learning and growing, and that we (depending on how novice we still feel about our skills) may be trying to share suggestions or discuss things we aren’t really that experienced in or familiar with yet. In truth, no one of us mere mortals is omniscient, and there will always be some skill or concept area that even the most skilled expert has not yet developed an understanding for. But the more we make an effort to explain ourselves, the easier it becomes to understand the merits both of how we’ve figured out how do things and how others approach things, and the more confidence we gain in our abilities to help others grow as well.
To this end (sharing what I know, and gaining more confidence in my explaining/teaching skills), I’d like to share a few posts in the coming days here on my blog exploring some of my own current writing process.
Look for a post on my approach to brainstorming characters early next week!