Since this past weekend’s assignment was all about writing badly on purpose, it seems fitting to start the week with a post about writing well. First, a little quiz.
A: Writing is an art
B: Writing is a craft
We’re you able to choose? Okay, you caught me. It’s a trick question. The truth is good writing mixes art and craft together.
The art of the storyteller
A friend of mine recently described her experience at art school.
“At art school,” she said, “they don’t teach you to make art. They teach you that art comes from inside you. It’s something you discover.”
Good storytelling is the art of uncovering an interesting story to share, whether it’s the tale of pirates in space, or a true story about your childhood. It’s about discovering the man who hunts the white whale, or the boy who could fly. It’s about answering who, what, where, when, and why.
The craft of the wordsmith
If the storyteller makes the artistic broad strokes, the wordsmith is responsible for crafting the fine details.
A wordsmith, by definition, is any person who works skillfully with words. The keystone of this definition is “skillfully.” In simplest terms, the wordsmith pretties up the language with which we tell our tales.
Some wonderful examples of talented wordcraft, along with explanations for how and why they work, can be found on Jan Tarasovic’s blog In Search of the Perfect Sentence. In it, Tarasovic examines everything from assonance and consonance, to rhythm and repetition. A worthy site to use when polishing up the instruments in your writer’s toolbox.
One of the things I notice about many beginning writers is they lean too heavily one way or the other. Some get in such a hurry to reach “The End” they let the storyteller do all the work with very little (if any) consideration for the wordsmith. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those writers so intent on crafting the prettiest words and phrases their prose becomes purple. Either way, the writing lacks balance.
When you think your story is done, when it feels like you have nothing more to add or take away, set it aside for a day or two. When you come back to it, make two more passes. On the first one, narrow your attention to the story and how it flows. On the second, focus on the style alone.
Writing well means finding the balance between story and style. Achieving that balance? It’s an art.