Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why I Write

Recently, a friend of mine asked me why I write. "It's what I do," I said and laughed.

Truth: I didn't know what to say. I'd never really asked myself the question. So why do I write? The easy answer is I don't really have a choice. The words pop into my head and pile up like rush hour traffic. I can't not put them to paper.

I wonder if anyone ever asked Van Gogh why he painted, or Gershwin why he composed, or Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev why they danced. Of course, I would never compare myself to artists of their caliber, but you get the point.

To me, writing is a musical endeavor, of sorts. Prose should sing. It should never be choppy or roll off the tongue in the literary equivalent of three-round bursts. In George Orwell's famous essay, "Why I Write", he says, "When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words".   I think it is this constant quest for beautiful words which inspires me and feeds my search for a well-written turn of phrase.

But is that all there is to writing? To reading? Is a lovely compilation of words the chief aim of all  my literary endeavors? Let's hope not. Channelling Simon Cowell, if that were the case, all books would be nothing but a self-indulgent pile of rubbish. (Though let's face it, there are plenty of books out there which qualify.) We can't overlook the storytelling aspect of writing.

Another friend of mine recently reminded me of the importance of being swept along the tide of an engaging story. This has led to some rather heated discussions regarding plot-driven versus character-driven fiction. Right or wrong, my conclusion (according to my personal writing/reading style and tastes) determines that a book must have both to hook me. The characters must be engaging, but I must also be pulled into the plot for the book to be a success.

How does this translate into writing? Well, either it does or it doesn't. There is no magic formula for creating this marriage of strong characterization and interesting plot. I begin with a spark of an idea, dissect each character from the protagonist down to the most minor secondary character, mix them up with a bucket of beautiful words, and voila! there's your book. Does it always work? Well, you'll have to be the judge of that . . .


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