f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Complexity – Fundamentals

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Day 2 of Complexity – Fundamentals

We’re going to start in the world of sports yet again today…but we don’t have to stick with baseball.

We can talk about tennis. Or basketball. Really any sport.

The one thing that every sport seems to have in common is that people need to practice. Coaches set up drills. Players repeat movements or motions or plays or swings again and again and again. Good habits need to be formed, bad habits eradicated. These things need to become almost instinctual or reflexive.

We have no such system in place for writing. Instead, it’s generally assumed that one can simply sit down at a computer and write a novel. This is crazy talk. Instead, we need to understand that writing can be broken down into component parts. It’s a skill for which there are drills and practice opportunities availability.

It’s these foundational fundamentals that become the groundwork on which our writing careers are formed. Just as no pianist can play Chopin without first learning scales, nor sculptors attempt a Rodin without first learning to model in clay, so we won’t have the necessary training to turn out writing of excellence without, well, writing.

Here’s just four of the fundamentals we need to master.

Reading – I talk about this a lot, but you need to read. You need to read fiction. You need to read nonfiction. The Bible. Plays. Children’s books. Poetry. Anything that is well-written will be of benefit. You need to read broadly and deeply. You need to scale back on writing that no longer challenges, that reinforces clichés, that teaches you only things you already know.

Ideally, I’d say you should be reading two to three books a month. A book a week, if possible. Does that sound excessive? It’s 52 books. There are over 10,000 novels published a year. JUST NOVELS! You’re only scratching the surface.

Reading Intentionally – We also need to read with intention. We need to be aware of what other writers are doing. We need to pay attention to structure choices and POV choices. We need to “borrow” tricks that we like. We need to understand that this book didn’t emerge from whole cloth. This is as much a quilt as any book. It may seem seamless but we should begin to be able to pick out the subtle sutures and stitching holding the thing together.

Voice – Every time you write, you have the chance to create a voice. In your Christmas letter. In your email. In your note reminding your children to pack their own lunches. One of the things that has submarined our societal writing skills overall is simply that we were no longer writing. Letters were passé. We spoke on the phone. Or worse, just watched TV. Computers have actually brought writing back to us. Email (and now blogging) are returning us to the written word and so it’s time to actually employ for something other than forwarding dumb jokes or untrue stories about the president of Johnson & Johnson being a Satanist. Write to your friends in a decisive and immediate voice. Write your spouse spicy notes in a purr. Write forward in anger to some jackass with a blog, telling him you don’t need to be told how to write. These are drills, practice done in miniature. But again, it’s all about the repetition. The making of instincts and reflexes.

Story – Write a nine page short story. It should have a beginning and an end. There must be one character in a defined setting. There must be something at stake for that character and by the end there must be a resolution of those stakes. This is story at its most basic. Is it something you’ve ever even tried? Do you know how to go about doing it? If not, how in the world are you writing a novel?
Those are some examples of fundamentals. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how we build on these, adding complexity to everything we do.
Go to Day 3 of Complexity.