So much has been written about the power of the pen, I decided to go for a slightly different twist on the name for this week's blog. I'm not sure what brought this topic on - perhaps devouring Rose, an old but absolutely stunning, book by Martin Cruz Smith, set me off, I'm not sure. But I got to thinking about what incredible power we have when we write. The power to give life, not just to a child or three, as so many of us do, but to create heroes, heroines, villains, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and myriad odd, funny, beloved, and/or diabolical secondary characters.
We create worlds around these people - everything from a country village to a western ranch, from teeming city to completely alien cultures on planets far, far away. We create balmy nights of romance under the stars, raging storms, claustrophobic traps deep inside the earth, soaring wonder in airplanes, spaceships, even an angel's view of earth.
Through nothing more than black type on a white page - whether on paper or on screen - we invent situations that would challenge the finest minds among us, some no more complicated than the joys and sorrows of everyday life, some that challenge us to follow a maze of clues to find a villain, some that grab us on the scale of a James Bond thriller, some that simply amaze. And, yes, some that seem to tip over into glorifying "blood & guts" far beyond what most of us want to read.
But whatever the words we create, they are ours. They come out of our heads, no one else's - though certainly with a nod to all writers who have gone before us. After all, writing Romance boils down to boy meets girl, they fall in love but must deal with some supposedly insurmountable problem before they finally reconcile. And there you have it, HEA once again. (That's Happily Ever After, for those who don't recognize the acronym.) It's what happens in the details of the three- or four-hundred pages that tells your version of this age-old tale that matters.
The same is true, no matter what genre you write. The author must provide the unique details that makes the story his or hers. You must provide not only characters so well detailed they leap off the page straight into readers' minds, but you must paint vivid backdrops as well. Whether it's the minutiae of a small town in the South or the broad vista of a planet on the far side of the Galaxy, you have to dig the details out of your head and find the right words to create a picture your readers can actually see.
And then there's Plot. Fictional characters need something to sink their teeth into besides each other. If there wasn't something happening beyond boy meets girl, the book would be maybe fifty pages instead of four hundred. So there we go again - the ultimate challenge of thinking up new situations when you have only to check out Amazon.com to know that every variation of every possible plot must have been done a hundred times over. And yet, creativity flourishes. Somehow every story is different, for even if plots sometimes seem to overlap, each author's style manages to be unique. (Okay, yes, there are copycats out there, but they aren't worthy of our attention.)
I read a lot. (I'm often asked where I find the time.) The truth is, late at night I'm too tired to do anything else. And since I do not have a full-time job, I can also take breaks during the day - ten or fifteen minutes to put up my feet and sink into a good book. And I am constantly amazed by the level of creativity in the books I read. Authors seem to have an infinite well of imagination that springs to life in book after book. Case in point - Rose by Martin Cruz Smith. He stunned us way-back-when with a book set in Russia during the period when no American could travel to Russia. His research was so perfect both his Russian detective hero and the world he lived in came across as totally authentic. In Rose, he has done the same for an English coal town. I mean, I was positively shivering with both fear and claustrophobia as the hero crawled through the debris from an explosion a mile underground. The fight scenes had my stomach in knots. And the plot twist? I'm a pretty good plotter, but even I saw only a vague hint of what was to come.
Yes, some of us like to think we're good at what we do. But any time we get above ourselves, we can always read Martin Cruz Smith, and a very few others like him, to take us down a peg or two. Yet all authors have one thing in common - Imagination. The ability to start with a blank page and make it come alive with interesting characters, a well-drawn setting, and a good storyline (be it simple or complex). This is the great Gift. The wonder of it all. This is what makes us writers. (And I make no silly distinctions between being a Writer and being an Author. They are one and the same. Anyone who takes time to worry about an alleged difference surely lacks confidence in his/her abilities. Or is arrogant enough to want to find a word which distinguishes him or her from those who are not yet published. A truly unworthy sentiment.)
It is immensely exciting to sit down each day and ask myself, "Okay, what happens next?" And, astoundingly, the answers are to be found only in my head. In a sense, I get to play god day in and day out, creating something that has never existed before. Wow! I mean, how great is that?
So take heart. Even if you're having an "off" day, those words are still yours. Even if you revise them until the paragraphs are almost unrecognizable, the work remains yours. Your idea. Your effort. Your end result. Yours to edit until it flows as smoothly as an English canal.
So, with due respect to the God who has gifted us with our talent, be proud of your creations. Never hesitate to lay it all out there and then declare, "Let there be light!" Whether you're finishing a novel, a short story, an essay, or a report for school, crafting words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and organizing the whole into a finished product is a major accomplishment. You can pat yourself on the back, right before you go back and edit and polish and edit and polish until you feel it's finally come right.
Hold your head high. You've done it. Even if your great opus is only two pages and read by no one other than a teacher, you have made a unique contribution to the World of Writing, one that is totally yours.
Writing is empowering. Writing places you among the rare few who can make worlds dance to their own tune. Revel in it. Be proud. We are so very fortunate to have been granted the special gift of not only creating brave new worlds but the privilege of sharing these worlds with others.
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Thanks for stopping by,
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
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