I've been brushing up on my grammar, building my vocabulary, researching marketing techniques, leading and participating in critique sessions, developing creative writing sessions, networking with other writers, and studying great works of writing. Through the Christian Writer's Guild, I have been and will be learning about all different kinds of writing (news articles, magazine articles, personality interviews, poetry, devotionals, screenwriting, non-fiction, and fiction) as well as writing techniques and tips. And the list displaying my preparation for a career in writing goes on and on. But for my non-writer readers, I will not bore you with the interminable details.
Academically speaking, I guess you could say I'm covered.
But for a writer, especially a fiction writer, there are two things that you must have that all of that academic preparation just isn't going to fully provide.
Imagination and a curiosity about the human condition.
And the real challenge is the ability to tie the two together. If you write fiction, that ability is the art of fabrication - to be able to weave a completely plausible lie that throughout and in the end implants something in the reader that they just can't let go of.
It's easy to determine if you have a curiosity about the human condition. It can be as simple as wondering why someone is the way they are. For example, recent news made me ask this question: "What would make a 15-year-old girl murder her sister's 9-year-old playmate?"
In my last post, "Did Jeffrey Meet Jesus," I wrote, "I probably should have been a psychiatrist because I've always been interested in what makes the darkest of the dark in humanity tick." My friend Stephanie left a comment that read, "I've found the same traits that would have made you a good psychiatrist also make you a really good writer. It's a fascination with our fellow human beings and the human condition." Thank you for your comment, Stephanie, because that response has tumbled around in my brain for the past few days and made me realize something about writing I hadn't considered before. The result is this blog.
Curiosity also shows itself in your heart and mind through something as simple as a look. The deep crevices chiseled into the leathery face of a street-stained homeless man. The apathetic countenance of a neglected child. The artificial joy frozen on the face of a woman who carries a reflection of internal torment in her eyes.
Words and body language can also give a fiction writer a shot of creative caffeine. Driving in my car one day, I once wrote an entire poem in my head when I heard the word "tragic" in a song. The word combined with a situation going on in my life, and I simply couldn't stop my brain. I later turned the poem into a six-page short story - it was fiction but fiction stimulated by observations of the human condition. And although it's rare, sometimes that human condition I observe is my own.
Add imagination to a curious nature, and it sparks fireworks that explode in the mind of a writer. When I have trouble getting my imagination to soar, I read books by writers who have bold and brilliant imaginations. C.S. Lewis is probably my favorite, but there are so many others depending on what you like to read. Cormac McCarthy is a dark writer, but his imagination is so vast and rich. If you like poetry, it may be the most prolific way to jump start your imagination - especially romantic era poets like Coleridge, Shelley, and Byron. A couple of great modern day poets who write great visual poetry are Stellasue Lee and Ramon Presson. Books of great short stories can also give you a quick imagination high.
I constantly remind myself not to limit my imagination. I used to love to read vampire books, and they all basically followed the Brahm Stokers list of vampire rules - until I started reading Anne Rice. She broke all the rules and created super vampires. Things the other vampires couldn't do, her vampires could. And why not, the characters are only limited by the writer's imagination. I still battle with limiting my characters, but I'm healing, and I like to think eventually I'll be cured of this yield in my creativity.
So, take something you observe about the human condition, combine it with your imagination, and voilà - you have the art of fabrication. Put it all on paper and BAM! you're a fiction writer.
Of course, all the academic stuff certainly helps you assemble it all together, but no matter how well assembled it is, no one is going to read your writing if your imagination doesn't reveal something thought provoking about the human condition.
So unleash your thinking, and pay close attention to the world around you. There's a story waiting to be fabricated everywhere you look.