Essays – Author's Attitudes
William H. Coles
To reach maximum potential, authors of fiction must discover who they are and why they write. In many ways, the telling of fictional stories is a performance that can be damaged or destroyed by ill-conceived attitudes about writing.
Do I write to master the skills and concepts of writing as an art form (or do I write stories to explain experienced emotions)?
Great stories are dramatically constructed art forms—a sculpture in words—that produce enlightened change in characters and readers. Stories are not beautiful descriptions of abstractions lived—such as love, hate, revenge, jealousy. And stories are not created to purge the author of an emotional or intellectual crisis.
Do I strive to tell a creative fictional story based on imagination (or am I writing a memoir or biography)?
The memoir is a popular and legitimate form of writing. But writing a memoir requires skills that often conflict with imaginative fiction. Adherence to the truth of what happened or the belief that a story based on a true story is equal to, or superior to, the created fictional story, are destructive attitudes for the fiction writer. Most great stories are not just told from life; great stories are ideas (that may be stimulated by life) successfully expressed by creating dramatic (and significant) series of fictional events.
Do I write for creative excellence (or for fame)?
All authors want recognition for their work. But that recognition should be for writing stories that entertain and enlighten. Desire for fame as an author that results in marketing and self-promotion imposes restrictions on creation of a great story. Writing a story is a selfless process and, above all, poor writing should not be promoted to the uninformed as worthy.
Do I write to provide meaning through entertainment and enlightenment (or to persuade to some presumption)?
To persuade a reader to a preset opinion does not support the creation of a great story. Authors enlighten about human nature; essayists, editorialists, and columnists persuade readers to opinions. Fiction authors who insert unrelated opinion in their stories face the danger of propaganda (deceptive or distorted information often about policy, ideas, doctrines or causes).
Do I rewrite to improve my creative story skills (or do I revise to transform my prose into obscure text with an intellectually intense meaning)?
Stories fail because of ineffective characterization or incredible conflicts and actions. Stories rarely fail because the prose is not fancy enough. Yet most authors revise through prose adjustment in style and craft when valuable revision really comes from structural adjustment, clarity of intent, and idea change.
Do I believe stories are dramatic events for a reader to experience (or written words for the reader to interpret)?
Fictional stories entertain and enlighten through drama—drama is conflict, action, and resolution. Readers become involved in the story; readers do not simply observe the story. The writer’s challenge is to engage the reader from story beginning to end, not to describe events. Successful writers actually provide only enough information on the page to stimulate the story in the reader’s mind. It is one of the wonders of reading great fictional stories that for each reader the story interpretation is unique to that reader and based on the reader’s intelligence, experience, and creativity.
Do I believe stories are structures whose unity is discovered as reading progresses (or that they are meandering observations described step by step)?
Authors who start a character on a plot line to see what their characters will do have limited themselves for creating a story. Stories are carefully constructed and then present details that are chosen to create images and ideas in the minds of the readers. Details are not chosen just to record them. Stories can be thought of as jigsaw puzzles where the author supplies essential, clearly detailed pieces that are complete, accurate, interesting, and dramatic, and the reader fills in the rest. Authors who insist that a nonstructured way is best for them—and then prefer to write rather than structure-and-write—miss the potential of reader enjoyment that is made possible by a well-constructed fictional story.
Proper attitude is essential: write a story as a unit, not as loosely associated ideas discovered moment by moment.