My first experiment into writing besides the elementary school papers on “saving the environment” was poetry. I edited my first poem when I was ten years old. My grandfather had written a beautiful poem, but after I read it, I asked him where the rest of the poem was. He agreed that it was unfinished. Several months later he sent me the poem with an additional verse for my review.
I cut my teeth on limericks in fifth grade and I have been writing form and free verse poetry ever since.
Incidentally, the only reason I wrote the “saving the environment” paper was because of the prize and the praise. Yes, I won that prize because I used the passenger pigeons as a metaphor for what can happen when we don’t moderate our actions. If you don’t know, passenger pigeons are now extinct.
When I began writing stories instead of telling them, I found that this style writing was totally different. I could break grammar rules judiciously. There was a story arc. Plus characters were not caricatures of people. The best writing was when a character had a problem and did its best to solve that problem.
As I jumped into the world of story writing, I couldn’t use shortcuts like I did with poetry or even academic writing. I couldn’t just state the problem and tell the audience how the problem was solved. I had to get into the character’s head and then solve the problem as the character. I couldn’t hand-puppet the solution.
Here is where it gets mystical and dimensional. You may have listened to writers talk about their characters. As a non-writer, you probably think the writer is two minutes away from an insane asylum. Yes, we can sound a little out there sometimes.
There are a couple types of writers– those who can outline their story and characters and those who cannot. Those who cannot are either really good or really bad– and if they keep writing and progressing become gateway writers. So what is a gateway writer? Well, they are walking the edge of the real and the void every day.
They are the writers that say that the characters were mulish and refused to solve a situation the way the writer thought they should. This type of writer starts talking about how a character takes on a life of its own. Sometimes there is a rawness to their writing that hits the reader viscerally.
Writers that outline sometimes do better and learn faster than the gateway writers. There is no right way — just the way that works for the writer.
But even the outline writers who have gotten really good in the craft of writing will talk about being haunted by their characters.
So as a beginning writer, (I wish someone had told me this when I wrote my first story), use the five senses for describing the character and the situation, study the story arc, and watch people.
There are more moving parts to storytelling than to an academic paper– which makes writing story a whole new adventure.