The tools of the trade for a writer. Pen, pencil, paper, time, a wandering mind? Or maybe a bright screen, keyboard, silence (or music), space, a mind focussed on something? Or part pen and pencil on paper, and part keyboard tapping and desk cleared of the junk of anyone else.
Or is this all a pile of scat?
It is true that people like to do things their own way and sometimes that works for them, but do they learn their own way through seeing what others have done, by imitating or borrowing techniques? I’m sure some do. But are they learning what it is they need to know? Is it a shadow-boxing game where if it looks okay it must be okay, or is there more to it?
More. It must be more. Why? Because the fact of putting pen to paper may be a personal task, it may be an artistic pursuit (especially if it’s a personal thing), but if the writer wants a reader, then the writer must consider what it is the reader expects from the story. It must be better than all the others out there. And it has to grab attention from the first glance.
The genre, for example, can be elicited by the title and the cover. If it’s a romance, what do you think the reader expects to find on the cover and beyond? Or a detective story? Or sci-fi? What do you think would happen if the title was Times Gone and the picture on the cover was a star exploding? And what would you think if the title was the same but the picture was the innards of a clock?
Do the same expectations follow for the rest of the innards of a novel? Does the reader expect to meet someone they can identify with, travel this journey with (vicariously, within the skin); someone they can feel for, cry for, laugh with, fight with/for? Does the reader want to travel a path that brings goosebumps to their skin, that takes them somewhere they haven’t been, probably won’t ever go to/see; somewhere interesting and compelling and intriguing and relevant to the underlying story of the character they are in? Do they want to reach an end that gives them enough of the resolution to enable them to put it down with a sigh, or a heightened understanding, or …
All that stuff means there is a defined way to put a story together because if it doesn’t open with the reader finding someone they connect with, it gets closed. If the reader connects with the person/character, but the journey is boring or repetitious or ‘not right’ for the purpose, the book gets closed. If there’s something in there that doesn’t gel with the presentation of what it is, it gets closed.
So, in order to write the story to meet the right reader, put it out there in the right way.
Give it a title that says what the story is about and what genre it is; give it a cover that says it more strongly, and indicates which reader should go further; give it the inside that starts with the right character, in the right place, take the path that leads to the full measure of depth and fear and elation, give it the journey of a lifetime that can be felt through all the senses a human is capable of, and wrap it up as if it was the only story you were ever going to write.
The Title, Cover, and Story that follow the mud maps of the journey from ‘Once ….’ to ‘…. The End’ and covers a certain amount of territory and time to impart wisdom or fun down the track that beguiles and bewitches and besots the reader.
Not much to ask, is it? But it does tell you that the tools don’t matter. The craft does.
It doesn’t matter how many people know the right way to do something, it always takes a spark of something to take a story from “That was a good story” to “Wow; that was Great!”
Consider this: Anyone can paint – just pick up a crayon and put something on paper; someone will like it, somewhere. Anyone can sing – open your mouth and sing along with your favourite songs; someone will like it, even if it’s just you. Anyone can dance – just move and groove and jiggle those bits; same deal. But if you want to be a better artist than Picasso (or as good as) or sing like one of the three tenors, or dance like … Consider this: how did they get to be the top of their field? By just jumping in and figuring it out as they went?
No, and nor should a writer consider that is the way to go. Learn everything you can, practice all the time, read your own work aloud so you can hear it differently. Do the same for the people you write with.
Be the best you can be because you don’t know if it will be the only chance you get.