We talked a lot about the importance of reading last month, and I wrote about how my love of reading began with my mother reading me Alice in Bibleland stories. So, I’d like to kick off the month of March by shifting gears a bit to writing craft. The words “writing craft” can sound intimidating as if you need a Master’s of Fine Arts to even use the words. But, really, how well a writer hones their craft has nothing to do with their education. I know many writers with years of writing and literature classes under their belts without a shred of talent in crafting stories; I also know self-taught writers who are incredibly talented and who’ve worked for years to hone their craft. While I definitely advocate for education, it’s not necessarily how you gain the tools, it’s how you use them.
Writing craft is simply the use of tools like voice, dialogue, characterization, plot, and more to tell a story. What makes an author’s craft unique is the way she uses those tools. My favorite authors craft dynamic characters who change and grow throughout the book. The books that hold my interest have well-crafted plots that make sense, but also have unexpected and fresh twists. I can’t turn the pages quickly enough when the dialogue is engaging and realistic, or when I feel the chemistry between two characters lift off the page. Let me break down well-crafted writing in one sentence: you know it when you see it. It’s as simple as that. Whether you have a degree in literature or creative writing, or have years of reading and scribbling in a journal until the late hours of the day under your belt, you know good writing when you see it.
One of the best writers I’ve ever read is Ayn Rand. Her novella Anthem, which was published in 1938 and in England, forever opened up my perspective on how writing can be crafted. The novella is a futuristic dystopian tale of Equality 7-2521 who, in a society governed by the law and the great “we”, dares to think for himself and choose the course of his own destiny. Here are the opening lines of Ayn Rand’s Anthem:
“It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws. The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!”
Rand crafts a story where people no longer refer to themselves as “I”, but “we”, and identify themselves as a collective rather than a self. Rand expertly utilizes craft elements such as voice and language to create Equality’s character as well build a world as a collective, rather than a world of individuals. She also specially crafts Equality as narrator and character who grows and changes over the course of the novella in both actions and words. In the first 11 parts, Equality uses “we” as a pronoun even as he searches for the word that has been lost to the world. In the twelfth and final part, Equality adopts the pronoun “I” as he ends his search for the word “ego”, and he starts a life of his very own outside the collective.
Ayn Rand’s Anthem is an example of how even utilizing a few craft elements can make a story unique and intriguing. My point is that writing craft is incredible and can be used in an infinite amount of ways. Writing craft is for everyone; It’s not something big or scary. It should be accessible, utilized, and eventually mastered.
We’ll be talking a lot more about writing craft in the future, but for right now: which authors mesmerize you with their craft? What books inspire you to push your craft to the next level?