Notes from a Drama Queen

Why I Write

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I do happen to have the best job in the world. I get to spend the day immersing myself in fantasy, spinning it out, shutting out all the nasty, fretful, wicked stuff that likes to beset me (such as the IRS, bills, worrying about children, aches and pains) and just lose myself. For all the hassles involved in writing for a living, and there are many, the rewards more than make up for it.

So let me tell you why I write. Because I'm a story junkie. I'm not interested in cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and I was able to give up recreational shopping fairly easily. Food is still an issue (it tastes sooo good) but what I need most is story. Preferably something with intense emotions, great sex, riveting story line, redemption, happy ever after, a hero to fall in love with, a heroine to identify with, all wrapped up in skillful writing. I don't ask much, do I?

Despite my intense love for great fictional sex (actually I'm more than a little fond of great actual sex), that's the first thing I'd give up. I can read a good book without redemption, so that goes next. Intense emotions -- well, I suppose if it's a run for your life kind of book I can even survive without the intense emotions. Besides which, it's better if those are done with a light touch.

What would I skip next? Probably a heroine to identify with. Mind you, if she's an annoying idiot who keeps getting into trouble and making a mess of things because she never learns then the book is probably a wall-banger. But if I had to choose between a powerful hero and a powerful heroine I'd go for the hero. Falling in love with a fictional hero is one of life's great pleasures, though a lot of poor women outgrow it. Nothing better than falling madly in love with someone like Jamie Fraser in Outlander and then jumping your husband, the real love of your life. Even writers aren't immune. Dorothy L. Sayers fell madly in love with her own fictional creation, Lord Peter Wimsey (and who wouldn't?).

So we're down to skillful writing, a hero to fall in love with, riveting storytelling and happy ever after. Hmmm. Ok, the hero can go next. I've read fabulous books with charming heroes who I'd never fall in love with, so adios, hero. Happy ever after? I suppose I can even let go of that.

Which brings us down to two disparate things. Riveting storytelling and skillful writing. They're not the same. I know any number of skillful writers whose stories are static and deadly dull. They know how to craft a sentence, they even know how to plot a book and come up with a competent piece of work. And I'd rather eat worms than have to read their stuff.

A book that pulls you in, tells a story you can't look away from, is what gets me every time. Even with clunky writing, annoying characters, no sex or embarrassing sex (almost worse than lack of sex), if the writer has the gift of story I'm theirs. I've read stories where the prose was so awkward I had to skim to find out what happened, and then went and bought the sequel just because I was so fascinated with the world and the characters.

Unfortunately storytelling isn't something you can learn. You absorb it from the books you read, you have it hardwired into your system a la Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey, but you can't take classes in it. There are exercises to open yourself up to story, but I still believe it's something you either have or you don't.

It ain't easy, even if I get to sit in a recliner and work on my laptop and sleep as long as I want and read read read. God knows in the end it's worth it.

So, you out there in the great internet. What do you think is the most important of these? Which would you give up first.

Of course, in the best of all possible worlds you need every one of those elements