Fiction, Reader, Television, Writing

The Role of the Storyteller

I watch Harry’s Law, partly because the character Harriett (Harry) Corn is not young and whip thin. She’s a criminal defense lawyer, who also owns the shoe store on the street level of her building, and is feisty as all get out. Sure, the story lines often stray from reality—no, on second thought, they’re probably as real as the scripted shows disguised as reality TV.

Anyway, I’m particularly glad I watched this week. One of the two cases in the episode concerned a British man under threat of extradition for a crime he’d committed twenty years earlier. In the years since, he’d moved to Cincinnati and bought a tea shop in a depressed neighborhood where he entertained his customers with tall tales.

Many of these customers came to court and testified in the shop owner’s behalf, saying how much he’d enriched their lives with his stories. In a moving defense to the judge, one of Harry’s associates illustrated how the man provided a humanitarian service to his community. He pointed out that the shop owner had taken his customers to places they’d never be able to go, given them adventures they’d never experience, made them laugh and given them hope.

I took that to heart. Since I published The Brevity of Roses, a  few people  have insinuated the book was beneath them, it was only a love story, fiction for the masses. Yeah. It’s fiction for real people. I won’t apologize for that. I’m real people. I won’t apologize for that either. I’m proud that I told my story to so many who let me know they liked it—loved it, even—and I’m happy I could transport them out of their life and into my imaginary world for a few hours.

So, I raise my cup to all the storytellers who’ve enriched my life. How small it would be without them. Won’t you join me?

Advice, Block, Craft, Doubt, Fiction, Publish, Short story, Writing

A story! A story? A tale of fear!

All my sources tell me that, as a new indie author, I need to publish more work soon. Writing a novel is not quick work for me. I have a story that might run novella length—might. I haven’t written it yet, of course. Another option is a short story collection.

Until the last couple of years, I’ve never been a big short story reader. I’ve written some, but they were for my own eyes. But, in the last year, I’ve greatly increased the number of short stories I read. I also read articles on how to write short fiction. I’m still not sure I get it.

I’m also not sure why I don’t get it. It’s almost as though I have a mental block. I think I write a beginning, middle, and end, but it doesn’t seem like a story to me. Is it a vignette? Is that a story?

Does a story require a moral? A lesson? A reason to exist? Am I over-thinking this? Probably. I fear I can’t write short stories. Then again, I fear I can’t write anything. FEAR.

I’d like to say I bravely take up my pen keyboard and wield it like a sword, but that would be a lie. The truth is I sit here quivering. I sit here wishing, hoping, praying that the words I’m typing make sense … have a purpose … tell a story.

That’s what I’m busy with nowadays. And I thank Christ Craig for her recent post reminding me that I have to face that fear or I’ll never know if I’ve written a story at all.

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Fiction, Marketing, My Books, Novel, Writing

Silencing the voices

I’m used to dealing with my inner editor and critic’s voices, but now that I’m pressed to get busy writing my next book, I’ve discovered a new voice—the marketer’s . It told me to consider my publishing “brand.” What sort of book would readers expect from me? That new voice wrapped up my muse like a mummy.

I second-guessed everything I’d already written. I’ve struggled to write another word since. For a minute—just one—I regretted making the decision to publish. In the privacy of my mind, I’m free to write whatever I want. If some sentimental little story begs life, I write it. If a dark tale of revenge takes my fancy, I write it. If a quiet little tale of self-discovery pops into my brain, I write it.

Ah-ha, a common denominator—I am the writer.

Some fiction authors are branded as writers of mystery, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, or they write only for teens or children. They have restrictions I don’t have. I write general fiction. I have the freedom to explore, to take many paths.

So, shut-up, new voice! All I want my readers to expect is a well-crafted story, as good as or better than the last one. That’s my obligation to them. That’s my brand. I can write the story that comes to me. The question should be, how best can I tell the story, not do I have permission to write the story?

What do you hear from those “helpful” voices in your head?

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Dream, Fiction, Imagination, Inspiration, Musings, Novel, Power, Short story, Words, Writing

Dreams, daydreams, and nightmares

We write fiction because we are dreamers. Whether we dream by day or night, whether our dreams are sweet or nightmarish, our stories and novels come from that place where real and imagined combine.

Rêverie (Daydream) – Paul-César Helleu, 1901

At the mere mention of that place, some of us may drift off to ponder the nature of reality. Before long, we’re crafting a tale of some fantasy “I wish” or historical “what if” or futuristic “it could” or contemporary “it does.”

What power we writers hold. We create. From a lock of hair, a tilt of head, a room, a city street, a desire, a fear, a thousand other details, we fashion a character, a locale, a situation. We write a thousand words, a hundred thousand. “It’s alive!”

Some of us write brilliantly. Most of us less so. But we are writers all. We record what we dream because we have that ability. Because we want to. Because we have to.

We give life to our dreams out of despair, joy, hope, fiendishness, playfulness, cleverness, daring. What else can we do?

We are dreamers.

We write.


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Craft, Editing, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Reader, Revision, Words, Writing

Best laid plans vs. vacation

I’ve been too busy with two little charmers to write a new post, so today I’m serving up a re-post from one year ago. It’s a topic of continued relevance to me and, I hope, of some interest to you.

Blue-toed tree frog.

I apologize up front because I might step on some toes today. Just know that mine are black and blue too. I am in editing mode—again—and I’ve recently discovered John Gardner’s book On Becoming A Novelist. I shared a passage from that last week and will share another below. Gardner has been stomping all over my writing toes.

I confess I’ve been a “literary” wannabe. In editing my work, particularly the passages that haven’t changed since the first version, I find a tendency to overwrite, to use ten-dollar words or syntax that only complicates the reading, not deepens the meaning. Or, when writing in a poetic character’s point of view, to let myself get carried away with imagery. Possibly the line drawn between good writing and overwriting is quite fine. Or else, I just leapt right over it.

John Gardner

Gardner writes:
“… as a rule, the good novelist does not worry primarily about linguistic brilliance—at least not brilliance of the showy, immediately obvious kind—but instead worries about telling his story in a moving way, making the reader laugh or cry or endure suspense, whatever it is that this particular story, told at its best, will incline the reader to do.”

Anne Tyler

If you’ve been around this blog for long, you know that one of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I’ve always thought of her writing as beautiful, but when I examine it, I see that rarely does she call attention to her word choices or phrasing. By this, I mean, not often do I stop reading to admire her clever writing. I admire her talent at story telling, her fleshed out characters, her ability to draw me into her fictive dream, which means she’s an excellent (Pulitzer Prize winning) writer, but she’s not a show-off.

I’ve read books in which it seems, as Gardner says, “the writer cares more for his language than for other elements of fiction.” I don’t enjoy those books as much and little of them stays with me. If those writers attempted to create a fictive dream, I’m too aware of their writing to fall into it. Obviously, there are people who read such books, literary critics generally love them, and creative writing classes teach them. I believed that I should aspire to become one of those “important” writers. But I’ve changed my mind.

I just want to tell the best stories I know how with beautiful, but understated, language to people who want, for a while, to dream of a different life, or place, or time.