For the past three years, the Tulsa NightWriters Club has emphasized the craft of writing. The craft is so vital—not only for new writers but for the most experienced veterans. If we want to be the best writers we can be, we must not only learn the craft but hone it, seek to master it—that is, we must always seek to improve as writers.
Sometimes I’ll pick up something I wrote five years ago and think, “Dear God, this is horrible.” I hope that’s always the case. It means that I haven’t stagnated—that I’m still progressing, still improving.
“The craft of writing” is such a broad term—it covers so many aspects of writing. The aspect I have a particular passion for is storytelling.
What is the difference between an engaging story and a boring story? It could be any number of things—a compelling versus an unremarkable problem to be solved, for example, or a sympathetic versus a self-pitying protagonist. Sometimes, however, the difference between an average story and a great story is simply in how it’s told. Given the same protagonist, the same conflict, and the same story arc, two stories can be vastly different in terms of quality depending entirely on how well they are told.
An analogy, if I may. My five-year-old son loves to play with Legos, just like I did when I was a kid. His enthusiasm and his familiarity with the pieces are profound. And yet if you ask him to build a castle, you are likely to be presented with an only vaguely castle-shaped structure: four walls that might or might not connect fully, no roof, a door in the front if you’re lucky. Why? Because he’s not skilled at building castles yet. And then if I come along and take those same pieces and build a castle that’s three feet high with a working gate and a bridge and a jail and a secret door, he’s over the moon.
You may have heard that there are only seven basic plots, or only three basic plots, or only nine basic plots, or however many basic plots the latest trendy writing book is espousing. The point is, as writers, we’re all playing with the same set of Legos. What you can build with them—that’s the craft.
Whenever I go back and read some of my old writing, I never think it’s terrible because of its foundational components—the characters, the conflict, the drama—those all seem fine. And yet the story is horrible. Why? Because I’ve done a poor job of telling it. I’ve either taken my Legos and built a boring square house, or else I’ve tried to build something elaborate that I didn’t have the skill to pull off and it’s a mess.
In Legos and in writing, there’s nothing more fulfilling than trying to build the most elaborate thing you’ve ever attempted—and actually pulling it off.
I have no doubt that every one of us has good stories to tell. Most of us don’t need to think of better stories; we need to tell our own stories better. I want us to learn to get the most out of our stories, to tell them the best way we can. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we need to learn to craft a superior wheel.
President, Tulsa NightWriters Club