Writing: The Devil Is In The Details

When I was sixteen I had an idea for a novel.  It was a comedy set in the stone age.  But as ideas go, it was a bit thin and not really funny.  Of course at that age you find humor in some of the dumbest ideas, it goes with the territory.  Perhaps that is why no great novels have ever been written by teenagers.  In fact, I don’t think even a good one was written by a teenager, but I am sure that lots of bed ones have been attempted at that age.  Writing is not an activity that we are born understanding from crib to grave.  Communicating takes a great deal of practice and even then many of us don’t get it right.  Speaking takes a fair amount of conscious effort and practice as we learn how to hold a conversation, and that allegory is very accurate.  We hold thoughts in our minds and then speak the words.  We tend to rehearse our talks before we open out mouths and utter what we have to express.  As we grow older and most assured we don’t take quite along to rehearse of think through our thoughts.  And many times our conversations are more by rote.  How easily we exchange pleasantries is a sign of practice.  It is the custom of acknowledging the presence of others.  It is that act of bonding with another person by sharing something common to both us and them.  We are taught socialization skills by parents, teachers, friends, and others, the degree that we are taught varies and our ability to learn well varies.  Some of us are very awkward in social situations, others take to it like a duck to water.  But as always, when it comes to socialization, the devil is in the details.

So it should be no surprise that the same is true with writing and ideas.  I put the writing first since we are taught first how to write by copying basic sentences such as: see Dick run.  Later on we are expected to get a little more creative.  See Sam run with the football and score the winning touchdown.  Alright, we are finally getting somewhere.  Now go write a five hundred word paper on the football game we lost yesterday.  Humm…Sam ran with the football and fumbled.  We lost.  I think I am still short a few words.  Okay…Sam ran with the football but was too stupid to hold on tight, so when he was tackled he lost control and fumbled the football.  The other team picked it up and ran for the winning score.  Well, I’m getting closer.  But I don’t like Sam or football.  I want to write about something else.  So the exercise continues.  Some of us will do this long enough to get a grade and a diploma.  We will be asked to write about this and that, turn in a term paper of ten, twenty, or even forty pages on a particular topic or area of expertise.  Of course to get that good grade the devil is in the details you put in the paper for the professor.

So as I grew older, from my twenties on, I would on occasion attempt to write a short story.  Now you would think that a short story of ten or twenty pages would be a really big deal until you try to write one yourself.  So there I sit, after three awkward paragraphs later thinking, okay, so I need more story.  Yeah, well, sure, that should be easy enough.  Only it isn’t.  If it were I would be O’Henry with several hundred stories to my credit.  Most of the stories we tell, whether they be about work, family, vacation experiences, and so forth, are usually very short.  The problem is that what we find memorable tends to be short experiences.  Unless you are old, have a lot of health problems and no one to listen to you.  That’s when you try to corner the market on story telling.  Of course if you had to sit down ans write it all out that just might shut you up.  So why should I expect that the writing of a novel should be any easier?

The one morning about four years ago, perhaps five, I was in that halfway zone between sleep and wakefulness.  You know the one, you are just finishing that dream and starting to wake up.  Perhaps you can still visualize that dream only you have a little more control over the action.  So there I was, Bruce Willis had just been woken up at three in the morning by some general or secretary of state.  Some Americans had been kidnapped and were being held in a foreign country, one somewhere in the middle east.  Now Bruce is complaining about having to go and rescue these people and I see him start to assemble his rescue team.  Next he is out learning where these people are being held.  And then the details get real sketchy.  I’ve tried to write that book twice, actually three times if we count the really bad first draft.  I have assembled my cast of characters, written biographies of them, scoured the internet looking for the right group of countries.  But there is always something lacking.  After two hundred pages or so I get to the point where the book no longer makes sense.  For me, description is so much easier to do, it just comes right out.  Action is more difficult and dialogue is worse yet.  Yeah, a screen play might be better than a novel for this idea.  So it came to me what I was doing wrong and I think it may be typical of so many beginning novelists.  I really had nothing to say.  It was easier to tell the tale orally.  I mean, the writing was great exercise for the mind and certainly gives you greater insight into reading the novels of good and great novelists.  But I have to have something to say, a point to the story, a reason why it is being told, a necessary point of view on life.

This sticking point has bedeviled me for over a year.  But now I think I have what I need, that moral to the story, that point of view that matters in the world, that reason why I need to tell the story.  I know I can’t write the type of superficial fiction such as Harry Potter and the whatever.  I know, many people like Harry and many of the other fantasy style writing.  I say more power to you but I don’t read it and can’t write it.  So I have been doing research to close in on what I want to write and why.  I am developing that vision I need to see the ending, the beginning, and all between.  The form is taking shape, sort of like being pregnant, I’m told.

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