Most people live in tiny little boxes of fear. In our culture it’s hard not to get sucked into it. The news and the media tell us that things are bad, very bad. And they’re only going to get worse. When we feel the crawling little ravenous mouth of fear inside our own gut, we are more likely to pay attention to the voices of anxiety and agitation surrounding us. Fear feeds on fear. It needs more and more of it to keep going.
how to be a better writer
Have you ever had that feeling that something isn’t quite right? A nebulous sense of impending doom that goes beyond mere anxiety? In real life these feelings are pretty unpleasant, but think about the last novel you read that set off the alarm on your sixth sense. That vague suspicion of trouble in the air most likely created a delicious anticipation for the next chapter. In fact, what’s really satisfying is when you can’t quite put your finger on why you sense dark clouds ahead. It seems the atmosphere of the story infused you with foreboding and tension while you weren’t looking. And before you know it, the author has you right where they want you.
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.