The Anatomy of a Writer

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Wonder. Most story ideas begin with a little wonder and a simple two-word question: What if? What if a great white shark terrorizes a small New England beach town? (Jaws by Peter Benchley.) What if a man stumbles upon a time-travel portal through which he is given the opportunity to prevent the assassination of JFK? (11/22/63 by Stephen King.) What if there is a Santa Teresa P.I. whose mishaps and misadventures span several years? (The Kinsey Millhone series—aka the alphabet mysteries—by Sue Grafton.) A writer’s wonder creates a tough—and sometimes strange or seemingly impossible—situation, throws a few characters into it, then sits back and sees where all the wondering takes them.

Resilience. Writing a novel is often compared to running a marathon. Having experience tackling both—well, technically I’ve only run a half marathon, but I did do it twice and two halves equals a whole, right?—I will say they do have a lot in common. They both require a ton of preparation, training, self-motivation, and a whole lotta time. But the biggest requirement for both novel writing and marathon running is resilience. Stamina. The fortitude to keep going even when there is no one but yourself to hold you accountable.

Insight. The nuts and bolts of the human condition are super complicated. How are we wired? What makes us do what we do? Becoming astute, insightful, and tuned in to answering these questions is essential for a writer to develop realistic characters with genuine motivation and emotions.

Truth. Whether writing stories about average people, aliens and vampires, or superhero characters with abilities far beyond typical humans, writers have the added challenge of instilling in them elements of truth. Themes like the tenacity of love, the power of good versus evil, the need for connection and compassion and understanding, these are simultaneously simple and complicated truths that create the backbone of nearly every story.

Emotion. Talk about a challenge! In order to pull readers into the story, writers must draw on their own emotions to create relatable characters. They must convey believable, well-rounded feelings—anger, sadness, enthusiasm, etc.—using literally only flat words written on a two-dimensional surface.

Resourcefulness. This is the side of writers that gets down and dirty with details, finding out everything they can about the important components of their story—settings, character professions, etc.—so when readers pick up the book, they feel as though they are transported to another world even if they’ve never been there. It’s the curiosity that takes an author to a real-life jail cell just so she can write an authentic portrayal about the experience of being imprisoned. (I read somewhere once that Jodi Picoult did this…now that’s dedication!)

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