I reserve the right to change my ideas and methods at any time. So should you.
It is said that one can’t learn to be an artist. One might be born with the need to think up cool things while ignoring friends, family, and bill collectors. That is an artist’s perspective. But that’s half of the making of an artist.
The other half is having an artist’s skills. One can learn those skills to create something others will want. It takes practice and humility to want to learn them. And a specific type of epiphany to spark that desire.
My epiphany came when I (as a dreamy reader and player of “Dungeons and Dragons”) read a science fiction anthology: “Mirrorshades” edited by Bruce Sterling. There was a story in it that inspired me. It motivated me. It made me say what all artists says throughout their careers:
“This got published? I can do better than that!”
Artists have two motivations: “Spiteful Pride” and “The Zone”.
“Spiteful Pride” is the belief that the world will benefit from your effort, and “The Zone” is the feeling of being lost in the act of writing. The former is the thrill of a reader liking your work and chasing that thrill. The latter is being so involved in an activity that you’ve lost awareness of where you are, and that so much time has passed. Both feelings make a human healthy.
What was that story and who was that writer? “Stone Lives” by Paul Di Fillipo. He’s had a dozen novels and fifteen short story collections published. I have no doubt that someone similarly acclaimed gave Di Fillipo the same epiphany that he provided to me.
What is the most important quality to writing?
In ruminating about this, I discovered my priorities. If I fulfill the higher ones, then I worry about the lower tiers. From top-to-bottom, the most important qualities to writing:
1. Fun – Did you enjoy the overall process? Did you enjoy paying your bills with the paycheck?
Education – Did you learn something from the experience? Chances are “yes” even if you do not like the result. There is no such thing as a failed experiment.
2. Innovation – Did you try something new to your genre or at least new to you?
3. Acceptability – Did your work achieve the results you wanted for your target audience. Did the horror horrify? Did the joke make them laugh?
4. Plot – Setting and character are equally important to the impact of your plot. To use something from (I think) Stephen King: Switch Hamlet and Othello. Hamlet would have second-guessed himself until he realized Iago was playing him, and Othello would have killed everyone by halfway through Act One.
You will note that I do not mention “theme” or “style”. At this point, I have found that those two are results of a polished work. If I try to force either one of these onto a story, the weight of my intention crushes the story. The characters become passive pawns swept by events. Their dialogue turns into plot points spoken aloud. The narrative voice becomes affected and distracting.
Using this tier, I plan on expanding on these topics in future posts as time provides.