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Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Writer's Toolbox

When you're a writer, there are some standard tools of the trade. A computer, a comfy spot to sit, heaps of notebooks, and large quantities of caffeine. Throw in some variables, but those are all pretty much givens when it comes to writing.

But being a writer is only one part physical. You need other tools, too; the intangible, mental and emotional tools that help you craft the perfect multi-dimensional story. These are artistic tools; I don't believe in step-by-step guides or scientific approaches to fiction writing. There is no set process that guarantees a certain quality of work. Rather, these tools are ways of thinking and processing that will make you a more sensitive, artistic writer, so that you can write organic, realistic stories.

Ready? Let's open up the toolbox:

- Empathy. It's important to be able to put yourself in your character's shoes, because unless you're writing a memoir, you aren't writing about yourself, but a collection of made-up people you hope your audience will see as real and knowable. Since the goal is for each character to be unique, you'll have to identify with each unique personality and viewpoint. The question you ask yourself is not "what would I do in this situation?" But "what would Ava do in this situation?" "How would this character react to that event?" You want each character to be relatable; you want your characters to feel like humans, with their own codes, opinions, and perspectives, rather than ciphers.

- Attention to Detail. No matter your writing style, the goal is to create an immersive reading experience for your readers. You want them to sink down into the world of the story and feel as if it's a real place and time; a world where they can learn the climates and anticipate the seasons (real or metaphorical). This world includes both the setting and the culture. Attention to detail is a mindset. To strengthen your perception of the world around you is to portray it more realistically with words. You can work on this by carrying a notebook around with you. Sit quietly and observe the goings on in a public place. Write down what you see, hear, feel. Eavesdrop on strangers' conversations. Absorb the colors and textures around you, and pretty soon, you'll be much more aware wherever you are, and your writing will reflect it.

- Honesty. I always stress the importance of imperfection. The world is a messy place; pretending it isn't can turn the most normal of writing subjects into fantasy. Acknowledge the dirt, the awkward moments, the flat tires, the bad hair days, the bad habits and regrettable decisions. This makes characters feel human.

Any topic can become the focus of a fascinating, entertaining novel full of loveable characters. It's the artistry and emotion that make the story memorable and special. Happy writing!

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