Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Top Secret Ingredient of Writing

The TSI is far less a secret to readers than it seems to be to some writers.

Even as readers, we know without really knowing why we love and trust some writers even if their books are dark. At the same time, other writers who load on the sugar and romance quite simply give us the creeps. Even if we'd never seen photos of the writers, clear images would come to mind: how they look and what they're like.

Now, we're more likely to be wrong about authors' faces than we are about their hearts. The romance writer might resemble a burly and hard-boozing cowgirl. The horror writer might look like a geek or, God save us all, a banker. But the truths we infer from their writings are subtler and more telling::
--Sloppy editing and rambling prose may suggest a motormouth with no or little self-control.
--Lack of precision in word choice may suggest undies in need of more Tide.
--Cheapness with words--refusal to take time to round out a scene or flesh out a character--may suggest a tightwad who'd tally the peanuts we ate in his home.
--Books filled with hateful rotters may suggest sickos who loathe their own lives--and maybe with good reason.

Then again:
--Artful pacing and patient scene construction leave us feeling that the authors are thinking of us, not themselves. And we can assume that, in their lives, they care for others too.
--Clear, compelling phrasing lets us know that writers are born sharers: committed to creating in our minds what they see in theirs.
--Non-shifty, non-evasive souls put their hard truths in perspective. Somewhere a child is laughing. And somewhere a couple makes love in the light. The impression that we form is stern but it's graced with compassion.

Yes--sigh, groan--it's true: good writing, at least in part, does come down to character. And this isn't something we can turn on whenever we sit at our desks. In fact, the world may not agree about what good character is: Lord Byron, to some, was a son of a bitch. But nobody's said that we need to be saints. Character isn't perfection, it's simply the backbone our spirits require. No matter what he did in bed, Lord Byron--when he sat to write--became the hero who would die in Greece.

We don't need to die heroic deaths.We don't need to sleep with married stars, although that might be nice. We don't need to swim the Hellespont or run with the bulls in Pamplona.

But we can spare the TSI a little while each day and:
--Repair a relationship that has gone south.
--Be less quick to judge a friend.
--Make a decision so bold that it stuns us.
--Be a little bigger and better than we've been.

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