Today’s guest poster is the lovely Bonnie Blaylock. Enjoy and don’t forget to click those links at the end! 🙂
Writing Invisibly by Bonnie Blaylock
Anyone who has ever wanted “to be a writer” knows that putting coherent thoughts on a page can be a challenge. So many elements vie for a writer’s attention: setting, plot, word choice, character, dialogue.
Trying to tame these wild things into submission sometimes feels like a frenzied game of Whack-a- Mole, flailing away in a sweat ending only with the writer needing a stiff drink and the mole hobbling about with painful bruises.
On any given day, writers tend to waver alarmingly between feeling god-like and feeling like something scraped off the bottom of a pig farmer’s boot.
One minute, characters and ideas spring-like gazelles from their imaginations and they spin gripping tales of romance and danger they can’t wait to share with the world—or at least that one friend who only says nice things. In the space of an hour, their mood shifts– now dialogue reads like it’s been recorded by the minivan navigation system and all the characters are dull cretins who move stiffly through the plot like hand puppets.
The difference between the first—(the artist)—and the second—(the hack)—lies in writing invisibly.
Many years ago, pushed by a looming deadline in a graduate class, I wrote the following story, hoping to at least win some humor points with my professor. This is one version of “invisible writing.” Bonus: it takes less than a minute to read.
The Invisible Story
Once , prince princess.
evil dragon. ?
“ , my love.”
land far away, .
, . !
Instead, her. “ !”
roaring, gnashing, flaming .
scales . Sir .
princess. , thrusting his sword, .
, ! last gasp,
shattered armor . roar,
triumphed, eating .
grisly . died of grief
from her tower.
While the moral of this story is left to the reader’s imagination, you easily garner the main idea with just fragments and punctuation.
The thing is, it takes very little to convey an entire plot. The skeleton of a story, if it has strong bones and especially if it’s a universal tale or truth that resonates, can ably stand without much interference from an egotistical writer.
Writing that appears effortless tends to occur when the writer gets out of the way of the characters and their goals. The writer is present, of course. The story and voice are hers, but she doesn’t leave grubby fingerprints all over the pages, which is distracting at best and annoying at worst.
Rather than keeping a white-knuckled grip on the wheel, a good writer lets the story steer itself for the most part, with only the slightest corrections here and there. I love that the earliest writing tools were quill pens topped with feathers, a visual reminder to have a light touch.
How do you write invisibly, less heavy-handedly? There’s no need to be as cheeky as my example.
1. Know the tools
Grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence construction. Read anything by William Zinsser or go back to your high school Harbrace for the basics. This should go without saying, but here I am saying it.
Leaving errors littered through your writing is leaving a trail of breadcrumbs straight to the writer rather than allowing the reader to focus on the story and is anything but subtle.
2. Write YOUR story
This does not mean that if you have never touched a dragon, you can’t possibly write about them. Imagination is allowed! It simply means that the truest (most invisible/effortless) writing that will resonate most with others is that bit of yourself that has been scarred, deliriously happy, or terrified.
Draw upon that instead of manufacturing fake tears—the reader can tell. Everyone has her own story. Even if everyone has been to a sixth-grade dance, not everyone has been YOU going to YOUR sixth-grade dance.
3. Pay attention to language
If you don’t have a somewhat freakish fetish about words, back away slowly from the page. Writers should at least feign interest in the words they enlist. Otherwise, the workers may just rise up in mutiny.
Thesauruses are useful but use real, recognizable words. Don’t use a fifty-cent word when a nickel word will do. Don’t insult the reader’s intelligence by explaining everything in excruciating detail.
Some writers are like those people who shout rudely at foreigners, thinking they’ll be understood better if they just increase their volume. Finally, use profanity sparingly. As my mother used to say, it shows a lack of imagination.
Lots. It takes at least 10,000 hours to be any good at anything, so you may as well get comfortable.
In the course of practising, in which you will write choppy, painful sentences and incoherent drivel, you will eventually learn to sift the chaff from the wheat and begin to duplicate the parts that flow, have a rhythm, and ring true—in other words, parts where you were invisible and the story shone through.
(see #3). In your love affair with words, you will need to read prolifically, maniacally even. Read widely and outside your preference and culture. Read poetry, screenplays, non-fiction, and novels.
Reading will do two things: it will increase your vocabulary and it will train you to recognize beautiful craft. At some point, you will be casually reading a paragraph or a sentence, when you will be struck by its perfection.
Not only has the writer nailed a feeling or situation so exactly, but he will have done it with words that read like poetry, where your only response is to pause, savoring it and staring into space at the deliciousness of it, the book held limply in your lap. That is what all writers aim for.
Find your writing heroes and reverse engineer them. Let them influence your thinking, which will influence your writing.
You will still have those distracted Whack-A- Mole days that leave you exhausted from the wrestling match, but try to tiptoe more than you stomp through your pages. Your readers will appreciate being beckoned softly along by the voice of the invisible writer.
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Brilliant article! How very true that we have those two personalities – The Artist and The Hack. I would love if the Artist would visit more and not leave me so often with just The Hack :p
Thanks to Bonnie for contributing to my little blog. It always makes me happy when these busy writers are willing to give up their time to share their thoughts and experiences.