What Little I Learned About Writing

What Little I Learned About Writing

A Story by David J Rogers
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This helped to start "Story Craft" group here on WC. Check it out and grow as a writer.

"

From my earliest stories and poetry, I guess I have been studying writing. All of my English teachers wanted me to be a writer. I did not think much about it. Writing was a thing I did, not what I wanted to do. Then, as I progressed from school to life, I kept finding my penchant for words coming into play and I began to learn structure.

Everything communications has structure. It is what allows communications to be effective. Without semblances of structure, our words become so much chaos and unintelligible. With that said, please indulge my ramblings as I attempt to pass along some of the things I have learned. You may or may not find these words helpful, but at least they are there and may help someone find the tools to express the morass of emotions, thoughts, and ideas into intelligible words that can communicate effectively their ideas.

First rule of communication:
It does not matter what you say. It only matters what they hear or read.

It has been my personal experience that having a command of the English language does not necessarily mean that the person hearing, and also an English speaker, will understand. Let me explain.

Once upon a time, I had a room mate; a good-ole Texas boy from Fort Worth. I had just read or watched or came up with an idea about something that I thought was excellent and worth sharing with my roommate. So, I went and found him. I told him in ordinary eloquence my thoughts. He stared at me. Stared at me some more. Then told me, “I didn’t understand a single word you just said.” I restated in “Texican.” He got it that time. To this day I cannot remember what it was I said. I just know that he did not understand; therefore, my communication was ineffective.

Then, I read about this very subject in college and went “Ah ha! That explains it!” My former roommate did not share the same perspective I had. I had to communicate to him in the perspective he had. Then, we were able to communicate. This is not an elitist-college thing. It was simply a word usage thing. My former roommate was quite a sharp guy. He just did not have the vocabulary I had. Which is fine. To communicate well, we have to find that common denominator; what is the common ground where we can communicate. I found it. And, we communicated.

The same goes for writing. It is not enough to assume that since you are writing to an audience that can read your language (in this case English). You must tailor your language usage to your target audience. Example: if writing a children’s book you would not write concerning the juxtaposition of emotional conflict of love and loss, but you might write about how children may not be able to express the differing emotions that may occur at the loss of a loved one. It is all in the word usage.

Second rule of communication:
It’s gotta flow. Yeah, not good grammar but it does go directly to the point.

Flow, in this case, is the hard to define character of the story, poem, thesis, et cetera. If your communication, whatever the method, does not have flow, you lose your audience. Your communication becomes the rambling of the mind. Which is how we all think, but it is not useful for communicating your ideas to others. So, flow in communication is rightly the second most important item to consider when communicating.

Third rule of communication:
Use of proper pronunciation / diction or spelling; without which, your communication becomes gibberish. Please refer to rule 1. Know what it is you want to say or write and ensure it is done correctly. Otherwise, you may as well have said your point in a foreign language. Plus, this is important, it shows how important your words are by the quality of effort you have put into them. (Hoping now there are no misspellings.)

Professionalism refers to a quality of effort that is worthy of hire. In other words, would you accept this piece as quality work if you were paying for it? If in review of your work you would not, revisit your work. You should not just toss out an idea as finished product without first giving it some additional thought.

How does this pertain to writers and a writers’ workshop? It is the point of a writers’ workshop to improve not just the communication of ideas but the professional quality of your work; without which you would not be paid nor would your work be taken as serious journalism, poetry, authorship, et cetera. If your words are truly important to you, then you should treat them as such by giving them their due diligence in review, correction, modification, clarification, scrapping-it-to-do-it-over-in-a-better-way, grammar usage, and spell checking. (Again, hoping there are no misspellings.)

Some tools to aid in communication:

In simple writing, we are taught intro-body-ending. In communications, that gets expanded to intro – 3 to 5 points – with 3 to 5 sub-points – conclusion / summary / ending. Let us look at the latter example.

Intro:
This is the “grabber.” If we do not get this right, we lose the audience quickly. This is where the writer begins to tell the story; sets the ground work, if you will allow it. This is character introduction, scenario introduction, or conflict introduction. This is where you want your reader to begin. There are various thoughts as to how this is done. That, in my opinion, is purely up to you, the writer, has to how you make this work for you.

3 to 5 Points:
If you have not studied writing then you may not be familiar with “plot points.” And, that is okay. Once you have laid the ground work for your work, then you have points within the work where you make statements, express ideas, shift the character into something new… something dynamic.

I have noticed in my 12 year old son, while watching a movie, exactly when the movie hits a plot point. He loses interest. But, as soon as the plot point begins to resolve into something, he gets interested again. That is until the next plot point. It is kind of funny to watch him watch movies.

People want the characters to do something. They want to see how the character will react. In non-story writing, people want to be informed from your perspective. Everyone wants to be able to relate in some capacity to what is going on in the writing. If they cannot relate, they lose interest. So, your plot points should be well thought out, logical conclusions and situations where your audience will be able to relate. You have to be able to “speak” to them.

3 to 5 Sub-points:
These points are sub-points underneath the higher level points to additionally support the major themes or plots. This can be harder than first appears. In shorter works, this may not even occur. But, in longer works, it is a must. What additional things can you throw in there to grab your audience, keep them interested, allow them to continue to relate, and not break rule 2. It still must flow.

This could be quite fun, if you look at it from that perspective. It is the interesting asides that become flavor to the whole. They could even be foreshadowing of things to come. People love that stuff. The best at communicating that make people go back and re-read sections because they feel they missed something. Doyle and Christy did that to me all of the time.

Conclusion / Summary / Ending:
This is where you bring all of the loose pieces together to anchor your final point. This is where conflict resolution occurs. This is where “closure” must happen. This is where you finalize your previous arguments into one cogent final statement. This is where you make your character or your statement the most compelling. You must leave them with wanting more. You must leave them thinking. If you come to the end of your work and there is nothing there, your audience will feel cheated. They will feel like something was missing. You cannot do that. Your work must be complete and have the ability to stand on its own without additional supporting commentary. As New York style cheese cake and freshly brewed coffee are a great ending to a good meal, your ending must allow your audience to savor the entire meal and enjoy the experience. Otherwise, it’s fast food and over before you’ve really had the chance to taste it. All you are is full, but you do not know why. That extra something was missing. As readers, we all hate that.

Application:
To be honest, some methods of writing will not be able to use what I have written above. A Haiku is only 17 syllables in three lines. But, you can review it to ensure it creates a sense of greater fullness by the words used and the thoughts expressed / implied. Other works maybe able to use this from the standpoint of effective communication, flow, word usage, and points that shift to take the reader along the ideas the writer desired.

This could be thought of as a quick, easy, down-and-dirty outlining for novella/novel works. Intro plus 3-5 points plus 3-5 sub-points per point plus ending equals 27 separate chapters or story points… instant novel. Although, there really is not anything “instant” about a novel or novella, it does give one a ready framework from which to work.

Summary:
What I want you to take from this is this. Think of what you want to say. To what audience does it communicate? Does it flow? Does the story or poem or writing make sense, move along a logical path? Are you sure of your word usage? Have you checked it for spelling and grammar? Have you checked it for format? Do your points make sense? Have you successfully moved your story through your points? Does it still captivate you? Do you think it will still captivate your audience? Did your work logically leave your audience wanting more?

If in review of your work you cannot answer these questions, “punt.” This is a football term for starting over and trying to get the ball back… your idea communicated.

I hope this assisted in some small way to your success. Thank you for your time.
Doc.


© 2008 David J Rogers



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Good article. Well-written and full of very useful information. Please allow me to add my two cents worth. Well, perhaps a dollar or two... :)

My career was in technical writing, courseware and engineering proposals. To write a maintenance maual or lesson plan, for example, I first prepared myself by researching schematics and other information from the bottom up; that is, from the specific to the general, then wrote from the general to the specific for the technicians, operators or students who would use what I had written. A report on the feasability of building a cement plant on the Mississippi delta, for example, must begin with the conclusion (general) of my findings, so the reader, who must make a yeah-or-nay decision, doesn't have to wade through all the minutia (specifics) of soil and seepage testing. Specific to general when you research, but general to specific when you write.

Now I write poetry and short stories, so I don't feel as restricted to unfolding the piece in any particular sequence. As long as I keep my readers connected, curious, engaged, it's wise to keep them guessing, because readers get the most from a poem or story by investing themselves in it -- that is communicatiuon at its best.

But only if the poem allows them to do so.

The difference between "good" and "bad" poetry, for example, can be expressed in terms of how well the poet "communicates" with the reader via the poem -- it's a kind of convey versus evoke thing. Let me explain: Most everyday conversations are indirect, even allusive, because most people tend to only share their feelings with family and close friends. In poetry, however, we can speak from the heart, be honest, direct and truthful. But poems are made of words, not feelings, and words are only handles to carry the idea of a feeling from the poem to its readers -- not the feeling itself.

What this boils down to for me is that good poetry SHOWS its readers how the person in the poem feels, whereas bad poetry merely TELLS readers how the persona feels. The difference is bathos versus pathos. Bad poetry is writer-centered and therefore tends to be overly sentimental, whereas good poetry is reader-centered and therefore powerfully sentimental. Bad poetry merely conveys (tells) the feelings of the writer, whereas good poetry evokes (shows) feelings in the reader.

Here's how one poet put it in perspective for me: "If you tell me you are unhappy, I can only take your word for it, but if you show me the symptoms, I can deduce your happiness for myself and empathize with it..."

If I say to you, for example, "I am so sad, I wish I were dead." I could spruce it up a bit with clever phrasing and rhyme and call it poetry, but it would still lack the power to evoke strong feelings in you, because all I'm giving you is how I feel. If instead you see me standing at the edge of a cliff, weeping, watching the waves crashing on the jagged rocks below, you will be moved -- perhaps to slap me along the side the head and say "Get a grip on yourself, dude!"

Nowadays, I don't meet very many people who act as if they are interested in communication. Even in everyday conversations, they seem to be waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can start flapping their own lips. Most days, I feel lucky to get one complete sentence out of my mouth before being interrupted.

Let's face it, our lives are dominated by one-way conversations -- films, TV programs, video games and all the other shallow, mindless stuff we euphemistically label as entertainment. Different strokes for different folks, of course, but it's my opinion that we need more of the kind of communication that you talk about in your article. Thanks for posting it...

--Bill

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Good article. Well-written and full of very useful information. Please allow me to add my two cents worth. Well, perhaps a dollar or two... :)

My career was in technical writing, courseware and engineering proposals. To write a maintenance maual or lesson plan, for example, I first prepared myself by researching schematics and other information from the bottom up; that is, from the specific to the general, then wrote from the general to the specific for the technicians, operators or students who would use what I had written. A report on the feasability of building a cement plant on the Mississippi delta, for example, must begin with the conclusion (general) of my findings, so the reader, who must make a yeah-or-nay decision, doesn't have to wade through all the minutia (specifics) of soil and seepage testing. Specific to general when you research, but general to specific when you write.

Now I write poetry and short stories, so I don't feel as restricted to unfolding the piece in any particular sequence. As long as I keep my readers connected, curious, engaged, it's wise to keep them guessing, because readers get the most from a poem or story by investing themselves in it -- that is communicatiuon at its best.

But only if the poem allows them to do so.

The difference between "good" and "bad" poetry, for example, can be expressed in terms of how well the poet "communicates" with the reader via the poem -- it's a kind of convey versus evoke thing. Let me explain: Most everyday conversations are indirect, even allusive, because most people tend to only share their feelings with family and close friends. In poetry, however, we can speak from the heart, be honest, direct and truthful. But poems are made of words, not feelings, and words are only handles to carry the idea of a feeling from the poem to its readers -- not the feeling itself.

What this boils down to for me is that good poetry SHOWS its readers how the person in the poem feels, whereas bad poetry merely TELLS readers how the persona feels. The difference is bathos versus pathos. Bad poetry is writer-centered and therefore tends to be overly sentimental, whereas good poetry is reader-centered and therefore powerfully sentimental. Bad poetry merely conveys (tells) the feelings of the writer, whereas good poetry evokes (shows) feelings in the reader.

Here's how one poet put it in perspective for me: "If you tell me you are unhappy, I can only take your word for it, but if you show me the symptoms, I can deduce your happiness for myself and empathize with it..."

If I say to you, for example, "I am so sad, I wish I were dead." I could spruce it up a bit with clever phrasing and rhyme and call it poetry, but it would still lack the power to evoke strong feelings in you, because all I'm giving you is how I feel. If instead you see me standing at the edge of a cliff, weeping, watching the waves crashing on the jagged rocks below, you will be moved -- perhaps to slap me along the side the head and say "Get a grip on yourself, dude!"

Nowadays, I don't meet very many people who act as if they are interested in communication. Even in everyday conversations, they seem to be waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can start flapping their own lips. Most days, I feel lucky to get one complete sentence out of my mouth before being interrupted.

Let's face it, our lives are dominated by one-way conversations -- films, TV programs, video games and all the other shallow, mindless stuff we euphemistically label as entertainment. Different strokes for different folks, of course, but it's my opinion that we need more of the kind of communication that you talk about in your article. Thanks for posting it...

--Bill

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

yes, solid information indeed. And well presented. Thanks.

Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I think this is the second time i am reading about 'writing' from you. It makes sense for a learner like me and throws light to explore and reflex back on my work. From the beginning of communication as a structure till the ideas of attracting and understanding your readers, it is very informative. Thank you once again for giving me an opportunity to read this piece.
RedRaven

Posted 10 Years Ago


3 of 3 people found this review constructive.

EXACTLY PUT!

Posted 10 Years Ago


3 of 3 people found this review constructive.

I found this to be extremely informational and is going in my library. Getting tips like this is great. You are right, with everything you put down going from the beginning to end. To be an effect communicator you have to have structure, grammar, correct spelling, flows. I got a lot out of this. Thank you for sharing. Now I know more of what you are talking about when you review my work.


Kristine

Posted 10 Years Ago


3 of 3 people found this review constructive.

Communication not just putting words on paper is the key. I agree 100% that if you are to impact someone, you have to be on their turf with their world view.

Posted 10 Years Ago


4 of 4 people found this review constructive.

Very informative and interesting. Making it like a text book for How To Write. Great idea.


Job Well Done!!!

Posted 10 Years Ago


4 of 4 people found this review constructive.


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Added on February 7, 2008
Last Updated on October 12, 2008

Author

David J Rogers
David J Rogers

Montgomery, AL



About
Artist • Author • Poet • Preacher I am a thinker, ponderer, assayer of thoughts. I have had a penchant for writing since childhood. I prefer "Doc" as an hommage to my grandfather Rob.. more..

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