Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A little help from Sarah Wynde

My cyber-friend, Sarah Wynde, recently wrote a blog post that helped me to feel better about my writing.

The quotes that follow and that I use to explore this are from that blog post entitled – Magical Florida. If you aren’t familiar with her work – and if you’re not, uh – why not? – her work is set in a mythical town in Florida called Tassamara. You can learn more about her work at her website or from my blogposts about her work here.

Meanwhile the first thing that struck me is this:

“…good storytelling is basically good lying.”

That’s a fact. While I try not to lie in real life because that shit catches up with you, when it comes to telling stories, I can lie with the best of them.

And isn’t that so simple? I’ve let myself get so bogged up in making writing complicated that I’ve lost sight of the simplicity and the fun and frankly – I miss it. Going back there soon.

Anyone wanting to explore this notion further should read the blogpost because she uses the FBI’s system of deciding whether or not someone is telling the truth, to help us out with our lying stories.

In another part of the blogpost, this is what really, really set me free:

“I tied that concept to Kurt Vonnegut’s line about every sentence in a story needs to move the action forward or reveal character, but I added a bit, making it “move the action forward or reveal character or relationships.” Those two ideas — about details and about sentence-level goals — might just add up to my ideas about how to write. Some people write books about the subject, but I think I might be two-thirds of the way to figuring out my own philosophy: Tell good lies in a way that Kurt Vonnegut would approve of. Funnily enough, I’m not actually a huge Vonnegut fan. He’s a great writer, of course, but I don’t want to live in his worlds. So maybe for me there’s another element about writing a world in which I want to live?”

This is it for me, J,J,J – I’m going broader than sentences – I’m going to say passages; passages need to move the action forward or reveal character OR RELATIONSHIPS and overall I need to create a world I want to live in, at least for a while.

For so long now I have been hearing that every sentence needs to move the story along.

It is so good to hear that sometimes what a sentence / passage needs to do is reveal character. Kurt Vonnegut said so. Like Sarah I’m not a big fan of the worlds he created, but I’ve read some of his books and he was a skilled writer whom I respect.

It is also good to hear that some sentences / passages need to reveal or build relationships. Sarah Wynde says so. And I love the worlds she creates. And she is a skilled writer whom I respect.

This is so freeing for me. You don’t know how discouraging it has become to sit before the computer and be paralyzed by the notion that everything I put on the page has to have the sole purpose of moving the story along.

I am a person who loves books with lovable but flawed characters. I am a person who loves books with arcing or even stable-good relationships.

Story is essential, yes, but to me it has to be driven by the purpose of creating or revealing characters and creating or revealing or building relationships.

Thank you, Sarah, for freeing me from my paralysis.

The books Sarah has written about the world she created, Tassamara are:

1 – A Gift of Ghosts

2 – A Gift of Thought

3 – The Spirits of Christmas (a novella that I loved and am very proud of since this is the dedication for it: “To Carol and Judy: thanks for being sparks of light on some gray days.”)

Sarah is working on her next book; A Gift of Time. She just got back from a trip to Belize and now there is this teaser on her website: Ghosts In Belize (new title needed). If you read the teaser you get a little taste of her magic.

Sarah, like Kristen Ashley, is a self-published ebook writer. I am beginning to think that might be the way for me to go when I finally finish several books that are currently at various stages.

Do you have a philosophy that drives your creative endeavors?
Share it. I think this subject is fascinating.




  1. I read Kurt Vonnegut's advice a while ago and liked it. It made sense. But for me it's important to note that you don't need to get that nitty gritty about it until revisions. So I guess my philosophy is: draft freely, take the whole thing apart, adjust for structure/plot, THEN apply sentence-level rules. Or, as my desktop wallpaper says: Deploy the artillery first, then send in the sniper. But, really, none of that works without a good word-vomit first draft.

    Glad to hear you're unstuck. :)

    1. I like that: "Deploy the artillery first, then send in the sniper."

  2. I'm fond of telling people I lie for a living. Their raised eyebrows amuse me. *grin*

    Re "every sentence needs to move the story along": when you're drafting, any sentence that keeps you writing does, in a very real sense, "move the story along," whether you ultimately decide it's essential to the finished book or not. Never let "Is this essential?" paralyze you.

  3. I'm glad it was helpful for you, Judy! One of the things I did in that presentation (which was for a class on research) was look at some of the research I did to see how it met the goals of a good lie and met the goals of a good story (so first, did it provide one or more of the four qualities of a good detail? and second, did it follow KV's rules?) I got to discover how some of the little details, like the Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox, provided context, sensation, emotion, and surprise, and were therefore valuable even though they didn't progress the plot. It turned out to be a really useful way to look at elements of the story for me. But I'm still working on my philosophy. I've realized that it has to include something about fun, because for me and for what I want to write, including a scene simply because it's entertaining works.

    1. Sarah - I get the fun thing. It works for me, too. I just finished reading Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley and there is a scene where they are at a funeral after party. A ten year old boy who is becoming the heroine's step child, is having a silly conversation with the heroine where he admits to kissing girls on the playground. The heroine yells this across the party to the hero while the little boy is trying to hold his hand over her mouth. The scene doesn't do anything except give you a sense of the fun in their lives but I loved it.

  4. Oh I am SO glad to hear this! And yeah, I have issues with that whole concept of every sentence MUST blah blah blah........

    Sarah sounds like an immensely wise and lovely woman.