Depending on who you are, you either choose to believe that writing is a fantastical way of expressing one’s thoughts, beliefs, and emotions through art, or you believe that books are masterpieces of craft, existing as examples of hard work, long hours of study, and diligence in applying the first two.
The truth? Well, it’s both. But if I had to give it to one of them, it’d be the second.
Writing fiction is art, just the same as painting or sculpting. It’s just as old as any of the classical arts, barring perhaps music. As such, the writer is just as much an artist as the painter is. To create art, a good deal of that needs to come from the artist’s thoughts, aspirations, emotions, dreams, and beliefs. Art is an expression of humanity. The more nuanced, the more clear that expression, the better quality art.
But the “express yourself on paper” to the actual writing is like deciding what you want to paint before actually painting it. No amount of thoughts, aspirations, emotions, dreams, and beliefs will get a written work on the page. You may have the art down, but the craft is what allows the art to live.
Writing craft is made up of things like plot structure, character development, verisimilitude, and the one hundred and one things you learned in Brandon Sanderson’s writing class (which, if you haven’t watched, you can access here) All the things that make your story grounded, relatable, and realistic are studied in craft.
Hopefully your art and craft don’t clash often, (they usually tend to stay out of the other’s way) but in the hands of an experienced reader, you might find that your creative vision has outstripped the logical craft limitations of a story. You find yourself wanting to save the pirate captain but all sources indicate that he should be dead. Getting him out of this prickly situation might require a little rule-bending.
Here’s where we come to the point of the blog post: if your story doesn’t make logical sense, it’s a bad story. There are many more contributing factors that make up a good story, but a surefire way to make a bad story is breaking verisimilitude. Simply doing “just anything” will, nine times out of ten, be perfectly in accord with your creative vision but in violation of internal consistency.
The solution? See, that’s one of your strengths as a writer. You can not only control characters and things in the moment; you have the luxury of editing, of hindsight. You can alter circumstances in favor of your characters, and do so in a a way that doesn’t look contrived or fake.
It’s a bit like your reader and characters are sitting down to play a game of poker, only it’s in the rules for you to manipulate cards dealt. However, once you’ve dealt the selected cards, you’re forced to watch the game play out. What would you do in a situation like this? Arrange and deal the cards in a way that favors the outcome of your choosing.
If you want the pirate captain to survive, even as he’s tied up with seven mutinous thugs surrounding him, turn back time to several chapters before and give him a wildcard: in the cave in chapter 7, he pulls a weird rock out of his pocket that produces a faint glow. The heroine questions him about it, and he says that a wizard friend of his gave him the stone at their last meeting, telling him that the stone would glow brighter according to the amount of danger the user was in. As they get closer to the end of the cave, the stone grows dimmer, as they’re in less danger of being lost, and soon they’re out.
The stone really comes in handy a few chapters later, where the captain produces it with a smug smile: the captain’s in very serious danger, so the stone is unbelievably bright, acting as a flare. The flare blinds the seven crewmembers, whereat he uses a hidden knife to cut the ropes from his boots (also shown to be hidden about his person in previous chapters), knock one of the sailors down, run up on deck, jump overboard, and swim to shore.
The difference between making the events I described “just happen” without any foreshadowing of the hidden knife or magic rock first makes you seem stupid. However, if you go along with the same plan and add a few discreet details to a few of the scenes, it makes you look like a wizard of writing. That is your power as an author: to influence circumstances to project outcomes.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!