The Third Level of Craft

Competent, clear, concise writing can be learned. As Wayne Batson indicated, English teachers, and I was one of those most of my adult life, have to believe so or we wouldn’t put in the hours to facilitate others’ literary skills.

But what about the next level—the creative story telling? That’s harder to know. I’m not sure “learned” is the right word. Perhaps “provoked” is better. Again, Wayne said it in his comment to yesterday’s post (I should just have had him do a guest blog today! 😉 ) There are things in life that can provide fertile soil for the germination of a story. Things like childhood play and travel and exposure to good stories and acting and reading, reading, reading.

Without intentionally trying, a person who reads widely and well absorbs the way a story works—the presence of conflict, the building of tension, the progression of suspense and perhaps romance, the unpredictability of it all, the twists and turns and surprises.

I’ve seen writers who have wonderful, creative stories, even though they still have a ways to go in being expert in their handling of the concise telling (or showing, as most writers will want to say). As I’ve said more than once here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, story trumps all. Readers are incredibly forgiving and will often forge ahead through imprecise writing if the story pulls them along.

But there’s another layer of creativity, I think. This is the writer who puts together words and phrases that are musical, powerful, quotable. Some writers would add, beautiful. I will agree, though here is a pitfall, I believe. A writer can become so enraptured with the beauty of the words that he forgets the story they are meant to convey.

Can writing such as this be learned? Again, I say yes, though I also think some writers have a better intuitive grasp of how to work at this level. Those of you who read here regularly may have picked up that I tend toward the analytic side of life—and writing. 😉 I watch the intuitive writers put stories down so beautifully, creatively, and with such apparent ease, it’s hard for me to think I’m doing the same thing as they are.

The difference is, I think, that I think about the difference. 😀

Here’s what I’m actually saying. I doubt if it is possible to learn to be an intuitive writer. That’s an oxymoron, one I don’t think exists. However, I do think there are things writers can do to make their words more musical, powerful, quotable, and even more beautiful. More on that another day.

Published in: on February 29, 2008 at 12:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. It’s really difficult to analyze, Becky. I’m more of an intuitive writer, but I think I get stuck just as often as the next writer when it comes to trying to figure out what the next sentence should be.

    And I try to figure it out all the time.

    I understand that there is a difference, that some writers are more intuitive and some more analytical. I treasure books like Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, because I get so lost in the forest. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have a plot. It just means that I can never remember how to put one together. It’s like having to learn French all over again, every day, in order to communicate in the new country I live in.

    But when it comes to character it seems easier for me, because I am so emotional, I guess. I can always find some way for my make-believe people to feel. And when it comes to sentence structure and cadence, there’s a part of me that can always hear the music, almost as if I have an inner ear that no one can see.

    I think the true beauty of it all is that we can’t really understand the creative process, as much as we try to catch it and hold it up to the light. And the fact that there are so many different ways to write, to still come up with that sterling, polished, breathless final draft, to me proves that we are indeed made in God’s image. We are creative beings, like our Father. And yet, none of us possess all of His characteristics.

    We are but splinters of His brilliance. Sparkles of glitter in the gutter, compared to His towering majesty.


  2. I’m not an intuitive writer. Even though I wrote as a child, I think that I didn’t start to write WELL–or maybe I should say BETTER– until I put myself to studying craft.

    One of the criticisms an early teacher of mine made was that I had lovely prose, great metaphors, even decent dialogue, but I no sense of STORY. I had descriptions and sketches, but not that cohesive thing that’s a story.

    I had to learn that. And am still.

    An idea, a premise, a situation is not a story. A story is a much more difficult creature to create freshly. 🙂

    As far as craft in Christian fiction, maybe some of y’all will want to respond to this post that calls Christian fiction crap, basically. She makes some good points, quotes JM Bertrand, but also partly misses the point that we aren’t writing to convert, generally:

    If she only saw how hard so many of us are working at craft–with books, conferences, classes, crit groups, private struggles. I, too, learned a lot in my college courses on narrative technique and literary fiction analysis. However, I don’t think the CBA market wants literary fiction. Mostly, they seem to want romance and WF and thrillers/suspense. As long as that’s so, then the depth and broadness of the market will be limited.

    Even so, I suspect most of the comments were made by folks who really don’t read Christian fiction or haven’t read anything recent or “best of the best.”

    Nevertheless, this is how these secular folks see us. That’s a problem both in perception and, to an extent, in actuality. We’re a new and still growing enclave (the CBA, so-called).

    Never mind that Jane Eyre is Christian Fiction before CBA. 🙂



  3. I suppose there are some parts of writing that are intuitive for all of us, to a certain extent. But I don’t see why we can’t layer in on top of what we do naturally. In other words, if I don’t naturally have an ear for the cadence of my writing, why not work to develop that, pay attention to the length of my sentences, the structure, the variation? I think the tendency might be to think, Well, I’m just not that kind of writer.

    But why not? I think we can all work on all parts, all levels, if we choose to. And I suspect it will always SEEM like others are able to create more easily than I am—because I know the sweat and tears I expend whereas I’m ignorant of what other writers expend.



  4. Yes.

    I continually strive to understand the dark underbelly of plot. It slips through my fingers like water. If only I could tame it, keep it in a cage, invite it out once in awhile when I don’t know what happens next.

    Maybe plot is a mystery to me because my characters are continually unfolding. Until they willingly reveal that secret fear of closets, I don’t know that we need a scene with a closet door opening . . . slowly.

    I feel like I have to get to a point where my characters trust me enough to tell me their deepest secrets, and that takes time.

    I’m not a fast writer. Maybe my characters don’t trust me enough.


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