Talking about writing comes in many forms. You can talk nuts and bolts, sentence structure, where the comma goes or does not, or how to write dialogue which are all needful things. Most of the new writers I meet have this vision their creativity will be enough to captivate the reader so spelling and grammar and structure be damned. This is never the case. The vehicle in which your writing flies will determine how high and how fast and how smoothly the flight.
And, regrettably in some cases, how long the flight lasts.
But there is the discussion on the philosophy of writing, on how writing should be done, and what it takes to tell a story. The person telling the story decides how, and if they are smart, they will already know how before they begin. If they try to wing it, they might be good enough to carry the tale to the end, but mostly, in writing, they must know right from the start.
A friend of mine went through a lot of text on a detective story. He began with first person, switched to third person, then back again to first person, and finally went with third person for the tale. Why? It felt right. It felt better to him as he wrote it. The process of writing, not the rules and regulation of writing, is what this is all about, mind you.
In one scene in the story, he walks into a bar, and the bartender tells him all about the history of the building. It’s a real building and the history is accurate. It isn’t a bar, but an office, but he transported it into another location and reworked it into a drinking establishment where horse racing and horse breeding people come to drink. This is where a murder takes place. The scene is important. How a writer gets that scene into the mind of a reader cannot be taught but it can be borrowed.
Think about Bilbo Baggins and his Hobbit Hole. That was his family home, Bag End, where Bilbo’s history was stored, his belongings, and his comfort. Torn away from this place was part of the opening of the story, and it defined the main character with style.
A bar, elegant and classy, where moneyed people go to talk horses, with photos of horses adorning the plain red brick walls, an antique piano on a small stage, and the massive mahogany bar, so brown it is nearly black, the perfectly clean mirror behind with shelves of bottles, each higher shelf holding a rarer version than the one below, and no prices asked or given.
The work it takes to define a location will stay with a reader. It will give them a place to relax and think about as the story evolves. You have an image of this place, and the people who go there, do you not? And I have not done it any justice.
What I have done, is given you an idea of what you must do to define, or refine, your story. Where? Where is this place? How does your characters feel about being there? That photo, in the corner, near the old corn cracking hand cranked farm tool, why was the victim standing there, staring at the photo? You have no idea, and no one has told you what or who was in the photo, and by the time the detective arrives, the photo is missing.
Is the photo a clue or a red herring?
We talked about the photo, over good beers and a chess board. Horses, of course, but a woman was in the photo, but who was she, and was she connected to the murder?
Don’t connect the dots, lead your reader to a room and allow the human mind to look around, to study the place and feel what it felt there. Your location should give you information about the characters there, and who they really are.
Your character is a woman, self assured and a good judge of character, we know this from her surroundings. We know this because of what she does for a living, where she lives and works, and we know because the other characters treat her with respect. So, does she get into the canoe with the stranger to go to the island in the lake? How big and island, how big a lake, and who is this person? All of this is important information that only you have, and to make your point, you must share it beautifully.
None of this can be found in a rule book. You can read books written by writers and find out what they’ve done, or better yet, you can read good books, lots and lots of good books, and find out how it’s done right. Or not done well at all. But reading is the best tool for learning how to write.
Mark, the man who was writing about the detective, had a problem with present a pause between two people speaking.
“Why would he have that problem?” Mike asked, as he looked around the room, searching for the waitstaff who seemed enthralled by the woman with the baby. It bothered him the child might start wailing and drown out the piano player.
“Because he had never thought about it,” Mark replied.
There you have a pause between Mike’s question and the answer to it. Mark worked it out.
This is the kind of conversations people ought to have more often about writing, instead of worrying about sentence structure, which you can learn from a book. I’ve got Fowler’s and Holt’s handbook, Strunk and White’s, of course, but none of that teaches you how to use words effectively to create a mood, or inflection. You do have to build the airplane with these tools, these rules, but the fuel can only be from your creativity.