If you’re a writer, you have a vision. Possibly you daydream about hitting it big with fame and money like Tom Clancy or Stephen King, or you want a cult following that develops into a huge fan base like Neil Gaiman or Chuck Palahniuk.
Out of the three basic elements of a story—character, plot, and setting—setting often turns into the neglected stepchild sweeping up ashes in the corner. And for good reason. It can get tedious to describe an imaginary place that you can see clearly in your mind’s eye, but the reader can’t. On the other hand, it’s sometimes tempting to use too much detail, bogging the reader down with unnecessary words that only add confusion to the story.
I went down to San Jose last week to see Alexsandar Hemon read from his new work, The Book of My Lives. After the reading he answered questions from the audience on topics ranging from writing, to imagination and creativity. One of the questions brought up the subject of expertise. Specifically, how much is needed to be a successful writer.
How long have you been working on your masterpiece? Are you in the beginning stages, when all you want to do is lie around and stare into your characters’ eyes and learn all about every detail of their past? Or are you in the middle stages, when you’re getting to the really good stuff and the plot is thickening up like gooey cake batter?
All of my life people have described me as intense. My family, my friends, perfect strangers that I’ve met at parties. I’ve been known to get really excited about a topic—like REALLY excited—without noticing the person that I’m talking to is backing away from me and trying to get out of the room. Don’t get me wrong, my intuitive people skills are usually pretty good. But when my creative faculties are triggered, everything else flies out the window.