Johnny Wilburn is adrift.
After graduating from Santa Monica High School with no direction to follow and no dreams to chase, Johnny finds himself stuck in a rut of mere existence. At home, Johnny always has to walk on eggshells around his father, Noah, a Los Angeles District Attorney, still deep in the grips of depression, ten long years after losing his wife to cancer.
Johnny’s mother, Melanie, had once been a promising concert pianist. And though her career had been cut short by motherhood, she had filled Johnny’s childhood with music and laughter. But after her death, Noah banned all music from their home, although he refused to part with Melanie’s prized Steinway grand piano, which still dominates in the living room, a silent and stark reminder of love and loss.
Johnny’s only respite from his father’s grief is his best friend Ben, an outgoing free spirit who recklessly and wholeheartedly pursues his two passions in life: cars and women. Johnny spends the summer living vicariously through Ben, helping him restore classic cars to their prime while listening to Ben’s endless tales of his sexual conquests.
Eventually, and somewhat surprisingly, Johnny’s father insists that he start thinking about his future, and before he knows it, he has enrolled to start classes at Santa Monica Community College in the fall, and landed a summer job at small printing press, even though he has no real interest in either. Life continues to roll on, and Johnny is resigned to just ride it out, letting it take him where it will, even if it leads to the same existence of bleak unhappiness that his father wallows in.
But then, a chance discovery changes everything. He finds a pair of tickets to a classical concert downtown, and hoping for a reward (or at least some good karma), he decides to head down to the venue to see if he can find the owner. Instead, he meets a beautiful young woman named Emmy, who has been stood up by her date. Usually, Johnny is much to shy to talk to women (unlike his best friend, Ben), but there’s something about Emmy that makes him fight through his hesitancy, and ask her to accompany him to the performance…and a whole new world opens up before him.
Music, which has been denied to him for most of his life, only equated with sadness and heartbreak, fills his heart and soul with joy and ambition. Sitting there in the dark, next to this enchanting young woman, Johnny realizes that for the first time, he knows what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
When Johnny opens the door to music, he is amazed to discover he’s not only talented—he’s a prodigy. A genius. After a lifetime of suppressing and ignoring his gift, the dam has now burst and music flows out of him in torrents. With a little time and a lot of hard work, Johnny starts composing music well beyond his years. The kind of music that touches souls. The kind of music that changes lives.
A competent musician in her own right, Emmy is more driven towards working behind the scenes as a producer. With a head for business and a heart for creativity, Emmy and Johnny are a match made in heaven.
My Broken Wings is the story of the rise and fall of a young musical genius. Of betrayal and redemption. Of how flying too close to the sun can lead to the greatest of falls, and how ultimately, tragedy can bring you to find your true place in life.
I feel like a two-year-old among all the Stephen Kings and Mark Twains. As if before learning to say my name, I was thrown into the Pacific Ocean, to sink or swim all on my own. I’m terrified now, but instinct tells me I must fight to keep my head above the water, or I […]
I feel like a two-year-old among all the Stephen Kings and Mark Twains. As if before learning to say my name, I was thrown into the Pacific Ocean, to sink or swim all on my own. I’m terrified now, but instinct tells me I must fight to keep my head above the water, or I will drown. I can’t turn back now. I have come so far.
By nature, my heart has been programmed to survive at all costs, but my brain that tries to find a reason to justify failure before admitting it, to search for an excuse that will allow me to stop fighting. To surrender, and say I gave it my best shot. There is comfort in admitting defeat. It’s easier not to fight.
For decades, I’ve wanted to cross to other side of this ocean. I’ve given up everything to make this journey. Still alive, still swimming. Cold water presses against my chest, threatening to crush me as I try to escape the sorrows of my past. I must swim.
A blank sheet of white paper sits on my table looking up at me. I stare back at it. It’s like being on that first date, knowing she wants you to kiss her, but you can’t find the courage to make the first move. I look away, afraid of falling into the black hole of white pages. A place I might never escape. English grammar weighs heavily on me. Punctuation stabs me to death. But I must swim.
Last stroke, last words:
She turns around and looks at his naked body one more time… the body she once thought belonged to her. Tears roll down of her cheeks and dampen the doorstep, sealing it for the last time. She is not coming back. The door closes. Forever. She puts her cheek against it, eyes shut, knowing she will never see him again.
And it’s dark again. I look around in desperation, waiting for my Juliet to appear. She must be coming back, because I’m still waiting. Hours pass, my arms are so tired. Last stroke, last mile. I must swim.
Here, I’m, alone. Am I alone? I slowly turn my head as if I don’t trust my senses that tell me there is no one else in this tiny room. Silence. These four walls close in on me. I see my shadow. I’m not alone. It keeps me a company.
Where are my friends? The friends that would look me in the eye and tell me I have no talent. The teacher I had in high school that told me I didn’t have the brains to become even an elevator technician, yet I dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
Where is my father? He would always say, “ Lions can give birth to lions and you have my blood in your veins.” He was the only man I have ever known who was far above it all, somewhere between God and human.
I must find the strength to carry on. I must reach to the end of the page.
What happens, and why? Whenever you sit down at your keyboard (or with a pad and pen if you’re old school), those are probably among the first questions you ask yourself as you begin your next masterpiece. And if they’re not, they probably should be. You can dream up the most compelling character in the […]Show more »
What happens, and why?
Whenever you sit down at your keyboard (or with a pad and pen if you’re old school), those are probably among the first questions you ask yourself as you begin your next masterpiece. And if they’re not, they probably should be. You can dream up the most compelling character in the history of fiction, but if you have nothing for them to do, or no reason for them to do it, who is every going to care? So what happens and why? Or, to put it in craft terms: what is the story, and what is the plot?
A lot of our non-writer friends (and yes, even some of our writer friends) tend to think of plot and story as interchangeable terms. And that’s fair enough. When you tell a friend about a great movie you saw or novel you read, and that person asks, “What’s the plot?” you know what they’re looking for is a brief rundown of both what happens so they can get enough information to assess whether they want to go to the theater or pick up a copy of the book for themselves. While I would personally argue against correcting them on their slightly improper use of literary terminology (people hate that), they’re really more interested in finding out more about the story than the plot.
The most commonly cited distinction between story and plot is credited to E.M. Forster, from his book Aspects of the Novel, which was published way back in 1927. His definition has been disputed from time to time, but it’s widely accepted as accurate, if a bit simplified. And honestly, who among us has the credibility to challenge E.M. Forster? When your novels are studied in college classrooms and made into Oscar-winning movies, then you can come back and make your argument about how wrong he may have been, but for now, we’ll accept it. Basically, Forster says that the story is the chronological sequence of events, and the plot is the structure that connects those events. Or, as stated at the top, what happens, and why?
There’s a lot of room for interpretation, however, as to what plot really is, and what function it serves. But if we’re siding with Forster, we’re assuming that plot is about the reasons and methods behind the actions within our story. A lot of writers will say that plot revolves exclusively around character motivations, which is certainly arguable, but the way I see it, plot is more about a writer exercising his craftsmanship. Plot is all about revealing the right information at the right time so that the reader or viewer stays invested in your story and connected to your characters. In other words, your story is the thing you really want to tell, and the plot is about how well you tell it.
So let’s look at an example. Suppose you want to tell a story about a man who takes a road trip across the country to be the best man in his brother’s wedding. That’s your story. We know our starting point, we know where we want to end up, and we have an entire country and at least a few days time for any number of things to happen in between points A and B. Now we have to make our journey interesting, and that’s where plot comes in.
Our choices are virtually endless. How you incorporate plot depends on what kind of writer you are, and ultimately, what kind of story you want to tell. Is this an action story? If so, maybe our hero owes money to the mob, and his trip across America involves car chases and shootouts while he tries to get to the church on time. Is this a romance? Maybe our hero is in love with the bride-to-be, and is desperately trying to get there not to be in the wedding, but to stop it. Is it a comedy? Maybe our hero suffers from a serious of escalating setbacks that involve ridiculous breakdowns, and rides from colorful characters. The possibilities go on and on. But the common thread to all these examples is tension. We all know how important tension is to a successful story, and you have to use plot to create it.
And don’t forget, you can have multiple plot lines within your story. Maybe we cut back and forth between our hero and his brother, as the brother tries to keep his bride-to-be from learning a devastating secret about him, or maybe he sets the hero up to be arrested when he arrives at the end of his journey, taking the fall for a crime he committed. You can also have subplots, where secondary characters go off on their own to steal a car, take out a hitman who has been tailing our hero for hundreds of miles, or kidnap the brother’s wife. The point is that anything can happen within the framework of a simple road trip story. Anything at all.
But remember—and this is critical—don’t get too trigger happy in your creation of plots within plots within plots. If you get too crafty, you can lose sight of the story you’re trying to tell. Ultimately, plot and story have to work together. Everything has to dovetail nicely at the end, and all your plot lines need to come to some sort of resolution. Can you have an ambiguous ending? It’s risky, but sure, you can try it. Just remember that when someone finishes reading your work, you want them to feel satisfied. You don’t want them to feel confused or frustrated because you left behind a trail of dangling plot lines along the road of your story.
So what happens, and why? Those simple questions have been at the root of some of your favorite movies, novels, short stories, comic books, TV shows, and even YouTube videos. Ask yourself those questions repeatedly throughout the creative process, and you’ll remain on track to writing something compelling, memorable, and most importantly, something that actually makes sense.« Show less
In addition to being one of the most beautiful words in all of the English language, verisimilitude is one of the most important things every creative writer should strive for in a work of fiction. Your story can have perfect grammar, impeccable structure, and surprising twists and turns, but without verisimilitude, no one is going […]Show more »
In addition to being one of the most beautiful words in all of the English language, verisimilitude is one of the most important things every creative writer should strive for in a work of fiction. Your story can have perfect grammar, impeccable structure, and surprising twists and turns, but without verisimilitude, no one is going to care. In case you’re not sure what verisimilitude means and you don’t feel like looking it up in a dictionary at the moment, I’ll sum it up for you. In a nutshell, if your work has verisimilitude, that means it feels real to your reader or audience. It means you’ve made your work believable and relatable. It means that you’ve earned your audience’s trust and faith that you know what you’re doing, and you know what you’re talking about. It means that your audience is along for the ride, and once they’re in the car, they’ll let you take them wherever you want to go.
So now you know what verisimilitude is, but how do you achieve it? Taking into account the general suspension of disbelief that everyone applies when reading a work of fiction, sitting down in a movie theater, or turning on the TV, how do you make it feel real? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that there’s no one tried and true method. Just like getting someone to fall in love with you, there’s no “one size fits all” plan of action. There’s no roadmap the land of verisimilitude, and no list of elements you can check off one at a time that will guarantee your work will have it. But that’s also the good news, because it means that all your options are open, and when you figure it out, it’s going to be a big part of what defines you as an artist. Every good writer has his or her own way of injecting verisimilitude into their work, and you have to find yours on your own. But just because it’s your own personal artistic journey doesn’t mean we can’t discuss a couple supplies you need to take with you on your way.
When we’re talking about making things feel real, we need to talk about research. It’s unlikely that you would be able to write a compelling novel, screenplay, short story, or anything else without having more than a casual depth of knowledge of the subject you’re writing about and the world you’re creating or working within. Research is critical. If you’re not a lawyer but your lead character is, you better talk to a few of them and familiarize yourself with legal processes if you have a prayer of writing about them effectively. If your story is set in a 911 call center, you better spend some time in one to get an honest sense of the environment. You need to intimately know the elements of your story, and if you don’t, you’re reader will be able to tell. No one wants to listen to somebody talk about something they clearly don’t understand, and they sure aren’t going to read about it.
But that’s not to say that research is everything. Just like everything else in life, when it comes to research, you can overdo it. If you’re writing a story that features the New York subway system, for example, you’re probably going to need to know a lot about its history, its structure, etc., and you’re going to research it extensively. You’re going to learn things you never expected to learn. But you have to understand that when you’re writing a story, it’s not an opportunity for you to brag about how much you know. You may find it incredibly interesting what the bricks are made of and what years each of the stops were established, but unless these details move your story forward, most of your readers aren’t going to care. In fact, you’re probably going to bore them, which is the most egregious thing a creative writer can do. Verisimilitude is not achieved by a writer proving he or she has done their homework. You have to let what you’ve learned from your research inform and enhance your writing—don’t try to shoehorn trivial facts in for no good reason. Remember why you learned what you learned. You want the details you add to draw people into your world, not make them skip to the next paragraph.
The other aspect of making your work feel real is writing with heart, which is easier said than done. Writing is a craft, to be sure, and you need to have your skills down. But if you can’t convince a reader you care about the people and places you’re writing about, then you’re going to be left with a flat, forgettable story. To achieve verisimilitude, you have to have the perfect marriage of heart and mind. Of research and imagination. And remember, it only has to FEEL real. In this day and age, works of creativity are constantly fact-checked and called out on the internet. And yes, sometimes this is deserved. But overall, your story is king, and you’re always serving the story. So if an important story element conflicts with what you’ve learned in your research, nine times out of ten, you’re going to want to side with the needs of the story or the character.
For example, I was interviewing an ER doctor once, and she complained about how unrealistic all medical TV shows were. I asked what it was about them that bothered her, and the first thing she said was that she had never once straddled a patient on top of a gurney, administering CPR while being rolled down the hall. Now, we’ve all seen that before, and we all probably know that doesn’t happen much in real life. But fiction is NOT real life, and it’s often heightened. You certainly shouldn’t shy away from drama just because it’s unlikely. Are your doctors are using the correct medical terminology? Are they asking for the correct drugs? Are they performing the correct procedures? If so, I say let them ride that gurney.
The point is that verisimilitude is about eliciting a feeling of trust and believability. It’s important in every story, no matter how mundane or fantastic the material. Your reader or audience is coming to your work to be transported into another world—a world that you have created. And if you want them to stick around, you have to make them feel like they belong. So pay attention to the details, care about your characters, and dedicate yourself to creating an unforgettable, authentic experience.
« Show less
When you’re telling a story, you’re taking on a lot of responsibility. You have a responsibility to yourself to complete the tale, a responsibility to your readers to keep them entertained and satisfied, but most importantly, you have a responsibility to the characters you create to populate your world. Your characters have to be much […]Show more »
When you’re telling a story, you’re taking on a lot of responsibility. You have a responsibility to yourself to complete the tale, a responsibility to your readers to keep them entertained and satisfied, but most importantly, you have a responsibility to the characters you create to populate your world. Your characters have to be much more than vehicles that deliver the story you want to tell, they are the heart and soul of your novel, short story or screenplay. You can have a fantastic and highly original plot, a string of innovative twists and an ending no one will see coming in a million years, but none of that will mean anything if your characters don’t feel real to your readers.
It doesn’t matter whether your characters inhabit the real world or one created from the fabric of your imagination. It doesn’t matter if they are based on actual people, mythological creatures or aliens from a distant planet. They have to be relatable. That’s not to say they have to be likeable—literature and films are filled with reprehensible but compelling characters. They can be good, evil or anywhere in between, but your readers must believe them and believe in them enough to become invested in their lives. For that to happen, you have to convince your audience that your characters existed before the first page of your story, and if they survive to the end, you want your readers to be left wondering how their stories will continue after they leave them. The best way to do that is to create detailed backstories.
Developing full and complete backstories is not just a good idea—it’s vital to understanding the people you’re writing about. When it comes to your main characters, you should be able to answer every possible question anyone might ask about them—covering only the information that is revealed about them over the course of your story is not enough. You should know their favorite colors, foods, songs, and movies. You should know what kind of grades they got in school and how old they were when they had their first kiss. You should know if they’ve ever been in love, what their first cars were, and what they had for breakfast this morning. Are they dog people, cat people or not interested in pets at all? Do they pay their bills on time or wait until they get a notice? The more questions you ask and answer and the more you’ll learn about them, the closer you’ll become to them. Keep them in the front of your mind all day every day, and whenever you’re confronted with a decision or a task, ask yourself how your characters would handle it.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you took the time to learn all this information, it means you have to work it all into the story. The point of developing a backstory isn’t to prove to your reader how well you know the character, it’s to inform your writing. Before you can expect anyone else to believe your characters are real people, you have to believe it yourself. And once you know them as well as you know your own mother, the connection between them and your readers will come about naturally and automatically.
Try not to get carried away, though. You don’t need to fill every moment of your characters’ lives with high adventure and heartbreaking tragedy. Your characters don’t always need tragic backstories. Think about it—you have well-rounded and interesting people in your lives who weren’t sexually abused as children, whose wives didn’t die of terminal diseases, and who didn’t lose their best friends fighting in a war. It’s tempting to lean on tragic pasts because they give your characters clear-cut motivations. But you should ask yourself, and answer as honestly as possible, if the character really needs to have suffered greatly, or are you just being lazy in finding a way for him or her to gain an audience’s sympathy? If you’ve determined that tragedy is crucial to your character’s thoughts and actions, then you need to ask yourself how much of that history your readers really need to know. Do they need every detail, or would it be better to keep it vague?
Another big mistake new authors make is inserting idealized versions of themselves into their stories. The ultimate version of yourself, someone who is good at everything, has women falling at his feet, never cracks under pressure, and helps everyone he comes across does not make an interesting character. A well-rounded character doesn’t do everything right all the time. A well-rounded character doesn’t even just have one single weakness or flaw. They’re complex people. Some of them are bad at math, afraid of heights, have quick tempers, or can be selfish. Don’t try to force your readers to like them.
The bottom line is there’s no such thing as too much character development. You can’t know them too well. They’re not you—they’re aspects of you. They’re your children. You’re their creator. Understand and appreciate that responsibility, and your writing will move up to the next level.« Show less
As writers, we’ve all encountered the dreaded writer’s block at one time or another. Symptoms include hair pulling, butt scratching, floor pacing, and blinking cursors on blank pages. It it’s happened to you, there’s no need to be ashamed, and if it hasn’t happened to you, it will. We all know that having trouble writing […]Show more »
As writers, we’ve all encountered the dreaded writer’s block at one time or another. Symptoms include hair pulling, butt scratching, floor pacing, and blinking cursors on blank pages. It it’s happened to you, there’s no need to be ashamed, and if it hasn’t happened to you, it will. We all know that having trouble writing is a big part of writing.
But what you can’t do is submit to it or use it as an excuse to sit in front of the TV when you’re supposed to be working. So instead of jumping on the internet to do “research” and end up blowing through two hours taking personality tests or falling down the rabbit holes of celebrity gossip click bait, try to do something productive with the time you set aside to write—who knows, you might even end up doing some actual writing.
1) Go for a long walk
We sit in front of computers all day. Go ahead and get out of the house for a while, but for god’s sake, don’t bring your phone with you (or, if you want to listen to music, at least put it on airplane mode). A little good old-fashioned exercise never hurt anyone, and getting your blood pumping or taking in a change of scenery might help ease the flow of those creative juices. If you feel like it, mull over your story in your mind as you walk. If not, just pay attention to your surroundings. Inspiration is all around you—it doesn’t have to jump up from the inside. And yes, if you’re the type of writer who needs to fill a schedule every day, this counts as your writing time. Writing isn’t done at the computer. That’s typing.
2) Find a project
Clean the house, organize your closet, build a chair—whatever you want to do. Sometimes writer’s block is caused by our left brain getting in the way of the right, what with all its logic and rules and deadlines. But if you give your left-brain something to keep it occupied, the right side is free to wander off to those places where the real creative gold can be mined. And even if no inspiration comes, at least you got something done. Writing a novel or a screenplay can take a while before real results become visible, and it’s important to see fruits of our labor, even if those fruits weren’t the kind you were looking for.
3) Start a Journal
Maybe you’re the type of writer who can never get too far away from the computer when you’re supposed to be working. Okay, fine. Start writing a journal when you’re blocked on your story. Even if you’re not the journal-keeping type, even if you never intend on giving it to someone else to read, or maybe not even read it yourself, it’s something anyone can do at any time, and it might end up being more productive than you expect.
4) Write out the story of one of your favorite movies.
Now we’re getting into the “writing exercise” category. You may feel you’re above this sort of thing, but if you do, you’re not impressing anyone but yourself. Basically, you want to tell yourself a story you already know. It doesn’t have to be anything similar to what you’re working on—in fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t. Just write it out as you remember it, as if you’re describing the movie and what you love about it to someone who has never seen it. This is an easy way to keep your fingers moving across the keyboard, and you just might discover some storytelling techniques within the movie that can help snap you out of your funk.
5) Write Character Bios
This is my favorite way to battle writer’s block, and probably the most productive. Since you’re not making any progress story-wise, why don’t you take some deep dives into the minds and lives of your characters? Write a few pages about an average day in your main character’s life. What do they like for breakfast? When they go to the grocery store, is it Ralph’s or Trader Joe’s? What’s their favorite TV show? Who’s their favorite author? Do they floss their teeth before going to bed at night? These details might not seem very important and most of them probably won’t make their way into your final product, but you’ll get to know the people who inhabit your story on new, more intimate levels, and readers will see evidence of that.
The healthiest way to look at writer’s block is as an opportunity to dig deeper or find a new perspective. Just because your muse is taking a day off doesn’t mean she’s deserted you—she’ll be back, I promise. The most important thing to remember is that you should always trust the process. So take a step back, take a deep breath, remain calm and always…ALWAYS keep writing.« Show less
Writers write, as we all know. It’s been said a million times—you’ve probably heard it a million times yourself, if you count the times it’s come from that nagging inner voice deep in the back of your overcrowded mind. Sometimes writing means sitting hunched over a keyboard, furiously banging away as fast as you can […]Show more »
Writers write, as we all know. It’s been said a million times—you’ve probably heard it a million times yourself, if you count the times it’s come from that nagging inner voice deep in the back of your overcrowded mind. Sometimes writing means sitting hunched over a keyboard, furiously banging away as fast as you can in a vain attempt to keep up with all the magical ideas bursting out of your head. Sometimes writing means staring forlornly at a blank page and a blinking cursor through drooping, bloodshot eyes. Sometimes it means letting your mind wander naked and free through the pastures as you scrub out the bathtub or change the oil in your car. As writers, we’re always writing. Most of the time, it’s impossible for us not to be writing in one form or another. Writers write. It’s what we do.
But there’s something else we should be doing more than we are, and that’s reading. It should go without saying, but reading is crucial to all writers, especially writers of fiction. Yes, we spend hours upon hours reading draft after draft of our own material, but that’s part of the writing process and it doesn’t really count. If we ever hope to perfect our craft, we need to consume the works of others with ravenous fervor.
Reading does not mean surfing the internet, going down the rabbit hole of articles about celebrity gossip, movie reviews and blogs (and yes, present company included). But it doesn’t have to mean a steady diet of Shakespeare and Tolstoy either. Read whatever you want, be it classic literature, pop fiction, novels, short stories, or whatever, but for God’s sake, read books!
Because writers are always writing, we read books differently from all those other “normal” people out there. When a book engages us, we want to identify how it did that. Is it the way the author structures his or her sentences? How did they convey the perfect tone so effectively? Why does this character feel so authentic? Something automatic kicks on in our brains, and we can learn more from a couple hours of reading than we can from wracking our brains all day, trying to come up with that perfect combination of words.
And on the other side of the spectrum, figuring out why we hate something is equally important. Is the prose dull and lifeless? Are characters behaving in unrealistic ways? Are there too many adjectives and adverbs? Are the metaphors clunky? To us, bad writing may not be fun to read, but it’s just as important as good writing, because it teaches us what not to do. And if you’ve never written a paragraph or two that didn’t make you cringe when you looked at it with fresh eyes, then you’re probably not reading enough bad fiction.
Whether you’re the type of writer who glows with pride over every sentence you write, or the type who thinks every word that makes its way onto the page is complete and utter shit, it’s impossible to be completely objective. But you can practice objectivity by reading the writing of others and apply what you’ve learned. After all, how can we expect readers to lose themselves in our work if we can’t find the time to lose ourselves in the work of others?
Language, by its simplest definition, is a method of communication. An agreed-upon system of words we use to interact with one another in order to understand and to be understood. Taking it a step further, language is a means of expression. We use it not only to deliver information, but also to convey emotion. To […]Show more »
Language, by its simplest definition, is a method of communication. An agreed-upon system of words we use to interact with one another in order to understand and to be understood. Taking it a step further, language is a means of expression. We use it not only to deliver information, but also to convey emotion. To let others know how we feel about something, and maybe even try to persuade them to see things the same way we do. There are many ways to say the same thing, countless words and phrases that can be strung together to get a point across, but it’s finding those right words and phrases that’s the real challenge. Those who can use language effectively—politicians, educators, and of course, writers—have a greater chance of reaching, influencing and inspiring large groups of people.
There is nothing more important to a writer than language, although it’s the part of the process most of us think about the least, if we think about it at all. Most of us are more focused on a “voice,” or that indescribable quality that makes our writing unique, makes it stand out from the crowd. Language, on the other hand, is about commonality and familiarity, so we hardly give it a passing thought—it’s the automatic pilot part of the writing process. But having a unique voice is meaningless if you’re not using language properly. Think of it like this: your favorite basketball player stands out because he knows the rules and fundamentals (language) of the game inside and out. It’s the way he hones his technique (voice) and uses those rules to his advantage that makes him shine.
If you read fiction from different genres, you’ll see the differences in language. Science fiction reads differently from Romance, a Horror novel doesn’t have the same feel as a Fantasy novel. That’s because they use language differently. There is a way to speak to any given audience—for example, a congressman wouldn’t use the same speech to address the NRA as he would Greenpeace. He has to tailor his language to suit his audience. But the most effective writers don’t use the language of their genres in the same way—Stephen King doesn’t read like Dean Koontz and Diana Gabaldon doesn’t read like Nora Roberts. That’s voice. If you’re building a house, you first need a proper foundation, and if you want to have a voice as a writer, you first need to master language.
For me, there was an extra layer of complication most writers don’t experience. Before I could begin to develop my voice as a writer or even figure out the language I wanted to use, I first had to learn the language I wanted to write in. When I came to America, I knew very little English. It’s very difficult to imagine writing a 400-page novel when you have a hard time asking for directions to the nearest rest room. It was very daunting for me to think that I could ever connect with readers and gain their trust as a storyteller.
I had no choice but to start at the beginning—to consider language in its most basic form: conveying and understanding information. So, I took classes, I listened carefully when people spoke to me, I asked questions when I didn’t understand, and I read everything I could get my hands on. The assimilation process was frustratingly slow, but I forced myself to remain patient, to keep my goal in mind and remember to focus on the subtleties of the language that people who just want to “get by” in English tend to neglect.
And while I was learning, I made sure that every day, I did what writers do: I wrote. And since writers are supposed to write what they know, I wrote about my struggle with this new language. I learned how to turn my feelings into thoughts and my thoughts into words:
“I MUST SWIM,” an essay I wrote about my struggle while learning to write in English.
The more I learned, the more I wrote. Slowly, it became easier to articulate my thoughts in English. I came to accept that it was important not to think too much about the destination, but rather the next step of the journey. If you focus on one step at a time, when you look back, it can be surprising how far you’re come.
As my knowledge grew and my writing evolved, I realized the importance of language beyond simple communication. The use of a formal or casual tone, for example, puts the reader different frames of mind. The decision of using “can’t” or “cannot” has a great impact on how a reader will perceive your point of view.
Vocabulary is another important aspect. Some writers are comfortable (and extremely effective) using big or unusual words, and if that’s the kind of writer you want to be, that’s perfectly fine, as long as you can communicate your meaning within context. It can be fun to learn new words while reading a novel if you can decipher the meaning without having to look it up in the dictionary. If, however, you’re just trying to prove how smart you are, you’ll not only fail to impress you’re readers, you’ll succeed in alienating them.
There are many different aspects of language, and as a writer, I encourage you to explore and master as many as you can, and the best way to do that is to write. To get those ideas out of your head. You can have the greatest story ever told and the most fascinating character ever conceived bouncing around in your brain, but those are only ideas. The real challenge is putting them on the page in a way that will inspire an audience to feel the same way you do about them. To be a writer, you need readers. And the best way to get them and keep them is to relate to them and get them to relate to you. By speaking their language.
Have a question for Isaac or his team? Want to know how you can read more of his work?
Contact us now and we will respond as soon as we can!