Sunday, September 9, 2012

Don’t Write, Don’t Tell: Take Your Choice

Writers are a quiet lot generally speaking. Oh, we may talk a lot, but really what we talk about is not writing. In fact one of the first lessons you learn as a writer is that if you tell it you won’t write it. Most of us are story-tellers by nature, and there is nothing we enjoy more than spinning a great yarn from a few fragments of imagination or even from fact. Conversations with writers, unless perhaps you are one, can be disappointing.

Who wouldn’t like to sit down with Hemingway or Millay or Tolstoy or Christie, and discuss their stories? They’re dead of course, but frankly what you get from talking to a living writer isn’t much more enlightening. Not about stories anyway. Writers, by their very nature, gather facts, accumulate experiences, view the world from a very personal perspective, but if they are writing about it or think they will write about it, they keep it to themselves.

The thing is, an idea for a story or a plotline or even a title or main character is something that a writer works hard to use. Experience, knowledge, training, all add to the effort, but the real ingredient that matters is imagination: taking a name or an event or a word or fragment of an overheard conversation and remaking that element into a story or character. It is what separates us from those who say that someday they will write a novel about whatever it is they think would make a story, but it doesn’t happen.

We writers basically live in our heads. We see, we store, we push events around in our minds, and then we transfer what that makes to a piece of paper or screen. We have notebooks, scraps of paper, index cards, file folders full of facts and fancies. We speak through what we write. It’s a one-way conversation for the most part, which tells you something about a writer’s personality, if not his work: we like to be listened too, no argument, no response, just listening to (and buying) what we say. That’s the difference between "us" and the rest of you.

Don’t write, don’t tell: take your choice.

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