Anyone who can tell a story can be a writer, engaging an audience to the very end, to the punch line, is a good story teller. To put it down on paper would make that person a writer.
A written story is nothing but a set of symbols that when read together have meaning. How the story teller conveys the meaning is what makes for good writing. To be a good writer takes a lot of hard work, practice and dedication.
And a little help from our friends.
By friends, I don’t mean your BFF who is not going to tell you the story stinks. Or might get peeved you made her look fat.
I mean fellow writers, that strange group of people we meet with on the QT like some secret society because we’re all a bunch of weird nerd-like creatures who like to spend a lot of time on the computer when there are a whole lot of people in the other room watching a football game.
People who are just as scared as you are putting thoughts etched in stone revealing your inner most self for the whole world to see. You want to unlock that diary but afraid of what others will know goes on in that pretty little head of yours.
When we write, we open ourselves up for criticism. In fact, anything done on a creative level is subject to critics because everyone has an opinion.
And some people can be downright brutal.
So maybe my lasagna was a little burnt around the edges. Maybe I sang off key. Maybe my story is filled with dangling participles.
The key is to remember not to stomp your feet and pout and point fingers. “Yeah, well, whadjou do?” Sniff, sniff.
Accepting solid criticism is an art in itself. I could write a story that gives me Goosebumps; I’m jumping up and down “this is it! This is it!” but I get one rejection letter after another.
My bestie says, “I didn’t get it.”
That’s okay. I ask her why.
She runs down each point. I take notes thinking how much I hate her.
Eventually, the story becomes clearer. I’m excited and buy her dinner.
I’m going to Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp for the third year in a row. I can’t wait to see my peeps from last year. Does it help with my writing? I think so. Does it kick my hiney into writing? Absolutely. I have to submit 35 pages of me. I have to present it to 20 people for a spanking (17 fellow campers and three accomplished authors).
I get to spank them as well. When I critique the stories of my fellow “grunts” I cry. I grimace. I squeeze my eyes tight into my head because they give me a headache. Last year I told a guy I wanted to punch him in the head after reading his story.
He was horrified!
“Why?” he whimpered. I told him why (I didn’t punch him, I was only saying that to sound tough).
If we were all great writers we wouldn’t be at Bootcamp. Everyone needs a good critiquing no matter how good we are at something. I can come up with a recipe I want to add to the menu at the restaurant and my bus kids laugh in my face.
The point of being critiqued is to learn from not only our own mistakes, but those of others.
So here are some of the horrors I found while reading the works of my colleagues:
• Participle phrases or better known as the “ing” words.
Riding his bike, he glanced at the girl. Grinning, he waved to her as he passed by. Yelling, she ran to him as he hit the telephone pole. Shouting, the people came running. Boy meets girl.
It wasn’t that bad, but yeah, it was. Every sentence began with an ing word.
• Conjunction junction, what’s your function. The ultimate hook-up.
• The Thesaurus can be your worst enemy!
• Use language that moves the characters along, sets the pace. Zoom! My brain screeches to a halt. Right into the telephone pole.
Onomonopeia was my favorite word in fifth grade. Look it up. When you’re 10, it sounds like a big bad word you’re allowed to say in class. Giggle.
When a guy passes under a fog shrouded lamp post, I know he’s shady and something bad is going to happen.
• The same with dialogue. The conversation has to sound real. Nobody speaks in complete sentences. Let dialogue bring in the back-story. “You’re just like your drunk father.” Okay, so the main character likes whiskey and his wife is unhappy with him.
• Point of view. Whose story is it? Period.
• Brainstorming is excellent for first draft. Sometimes it can take your story to a place you hadn’t thought of. Your characters might lead the way if you let them!
• Parallel universes have to be complete with parallel structure. I like eating, drinking, and to take [taking] naps.
I did my homework for Bootcamp. I read all 18 stories, mine included. I saved mine for last because I was afraid of what I had submitted to my fellow grunts. I wanted to see what they had to offer before I reread my own.
I squeeze my eyes shut as I reach for the bottle of aspirin. And I wait.
I’ve seen yours. Now what do you think of mine?