Lately I have been reading a lot of science fiction. Jay, a friend of mine at Georgia Tech, got me hooked and now to keep up with holding my own in a lunch conversation, I have to keep reading. Jay is one of those people who can answer your question by flipping over a paper placemat at a diner and draw 40 equations in two minutes and then say, “That's why it won't work.”
He knows that there is legitimacy to the science fiction technique of slowing time down when you approach the speed of light.
I finished a little book called “The Giver” in which the author sets up a futuristic world in which people's lives are totally controlled, in which the concept of color has been knocked out so everything is seen in black and white. I am not doing a good job of getting you hooked but if you have a few extra hours, read it.
The difference between science fiction writers and someone like John Grisham is that the sci-fi writers create their own worlds while modern day novelists use the given world and create the story line around it.
Here is the tricky part. Once J.R.R. Tolkien invented hobbits, these hobbits had habits. The same with all the other creatures. As you write your fiction, these imaginary characters have to stay in character. This is certainly not unique to sci-fi. If Erskine Caldwell sets up a redneck character, that character has got to act and talk and think redneck.
This is the art of writing. To be a good writer you have to be a good reader. People don't invent as much as they borrow from other writing. Shakespeare's plays are not so much original, especially his histories, as much as they are unique and beautiful in the writing.
His words and his use of words like daggers to your brain set him apart. Good writers are also organized and they are good listeners and good observers.
Writing is a craft like any other. It has techniques and ways of doing things. Just like good architects can look at a house and see how it was put together, experts on writing can dissect the techniques.
If you don't write, you should. You should have the experience of making sense out of what you hear or see or feel. Keep a journal. Go on a trip and then along the way write about what you see. A friend of mine who went on a trip that took him to a number of cities, sent e-mails of his travels back, like a travelogue. It included not only what he saw but his reaction to what he saw.
Can good writing be taught? I think you can probably be taught to write like John Steinbeck, whose writing was crisp and simple and powerful in its simplicity. I don't know that you could be taught to write like Shakespeare.
As long as I am recommending good writers, I wish you would read Robert Silverberg. His use of words, his selection of words, his stringing together images is spectacular. Some science fiction writers are good at creating worlds, but their actual writing is not spectacular. I am not going to start naming the good ones from the bad ones. And bad is probably the wrong word.
If you read President Lincoln's speeches they were beautiful in their use of references to religion and humanity. But he didn't put any $5 words in there.
I worked with a writer who loved to shove in the big words. He reasoned that people would be better off if they looked up all the words and somehow slightly approached his large vocabulary. Well the truth of the matter, I believe, is that the average reader encountered two or three of these $5 words and then just moved on. If you are a starving man on a desert island and there is one hunk of cheese, you will chisel off any mold because your life depends on it. But with so much to read competing, I believe as I said the person just moves on and doesn't read complicated reading.
Does that mean you have to “dumb down” your writing? Or does it mean that if there is a simple way to say something, do it that way, and let the reader learn how smart you are by how you reasoned something through and not how many of Webster's pages you could shove in one article?
I like to write, but I am not sure I am a great writer. I hope I am at least a good writer. I like words and I like painting pictures with words and I like writing that has a tone or style that shines through.
So I hope I have inspired you to take up pen, or keyboard, and try a little writing. Even if it is only typing responses to instant messages you receive in a chatroom you can add style and flair to your responses.
Then you could truly say: I be a writer.
Bob Paslay is editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .