When I talk, I don’t always speak with grammar rules intact. Maybe it’s a southern thing, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s habit. I write much better than I speak. My accent doesn’t mean I’m uneducated or simple. But alas, if I have something important to say, I write it. I think better with my fingers. I don’t know if that’s a testament to my writing or a result of being introverted. When writing, I do weigh every word carefully. I don’t just put junk down, unless the story or character needs it. A well-chosen word or two can make a difference between all the qualities below and the recycle bin. Learning to write was never about grammar and proper sentences to me. It’s just a given. I try my best and correct the rest in editing mode. That’s why I don’t talk about ‘the rules’ when I talk about writing.
The most important qualities to me in a story that I’ve written are: if its honest? does it have feeling? (any feeling-happy, sad, scary…) is it necessary? does it entertain, teach, have value of some sort? does it engage? would I want to read it? is it something I want to tour around and talk about endlessly? (in case the opportunity arises I want to be able to stand up for it and stand behind it).
Honesty- Is the piece is honest with the reader and am being authentic with myself? That doesn’t mean my story about a murder translates to me being evil, it means are my characters honest, do I represent them honestly? Do I want a character to find gold and be happy ever after if it’s “not realistic?” Not to pick, but the end of “Gone Girl” was frustrating, however it was honest to those characters. The end of the show “How I Met Your Mother” was not honest to the viewers. This blog is honestly how I feel about writing.
Feelings- Nothing more than feelings. You gotta have the feels.
Necessary- I wrote a piece I thought I would someday make into a novel. I had it mapped out, who would do what, when, how, the feels, all of the above, BUT it didn’t feel necessary to make these characters into anything more than a story. The characters didn’t have anything more to say than the story I had written. It didn’t meet the value mark as a novel, but did as a story.
Value/Entertain/Teach- Some novels are just for fun. Some change your life. Some can do both. They have value. I don’t want to create art just for arts’ sake. Some people do and that’s fine. But again, this is my blog. This doesn’t mean I’m a literary snob. There’s something to be said for a novel to be entertaining and take you away from reality. It’s called a break, we all deserve one sometimes.
Engage- If my story just lays there flat and people can’t remember it or take an interest in it, then it does not engage the reader. It’s like my journalism professor used to say about headlines and the first sentence. If it makes a couple at the breakfast table say, “Hey Martha did you read that?” then it is engaging. (Thanks, V. Tyson!)
Read- If a story is trying too hard, or not hard enough, has monotonous language, doesn’t relate to me and does not have any of the above qualities, I don’t want to read it. So why keep writing it?
Tour it- I wrote a couple of stories about history for kids. They were ok. They did what they needed to do. I cleaned them up in editing. Then I asked myself, “If this were to become a thing, and I had to go to bookstores to talk about it, do I really want to talk about it that much?” The answer was no. So it died that day on my computer.
Now the most important part is that I ask these questions of myself. I don’t want to ask these questions of the peanut gallery. This is according to me. Tom Turkey might feel differently about a point that I do, and I don’t care about Tom Turkey, he’s not the writer. Does that mean I don’t listen to those that have something to say about my writing? No, I am open to any worthy feedback. But these are my questions, and how I gauge my works.
What are your questions?