For this week’s Writing Wednesday, I was going to write/complain about dialogue tags (words like “said”, “whispered”, “replied”, etc – the verbs that come before or after dialogue to indicate which character is talking). There are a lot of rules about dialogue tags – one of the most prevalent being “ONLY USE SAID”, which I don’t agree with at all. But then I read this post which basically took the words right out of my head, so I’ll just leave it here for you to read.
Instead, let’s talk about something that happened on Monday.
My sister Ro and I were talking about the sequel to my book. It should be noted that I haven’t actually published my book yet and only about 5 people have read the first completed draft (which wasn’t that spectacular because it was a first draft). We were discussing plot. I started out asking her “how do I reveal M’s back story?” and 20 minutes later, she had given me ideas for another major character, including how to introduce her and what her storyline is, and how she’s going to affect the others. Later that evening, as I furiously banged out words on my laptop, my hair sticking out everywhere and my eyes red from staring at the screen, Ro came into my room and essentially acted out a dialogue between this new character and the narrator (at one point, I actually had to tell her to take it down a notch because she was getting so into it that she started yelling and it was, as the kids say, “killing my vibe”).
So then I thought: how did I end up being a writer when she’s the one with the imagination? Sure, I have an imagination. I frequently get lost in my own head and forget whether things have really happened or if they were part of my daydreams. I was always really good at making up stories in school – I still have journals from grade 3 where I wrote about whatever I could think of, including but not limited to my pet monster (who obviously lived under my bed). Ro said that she lacks the commitment to be a writer (she often has trouble with commitment, even if it’s something as simple as watching a movie on a particular day. She’s probably reading this and nodding like “yep, pretty much”).
It seems to be a case of her having the ideas and me having the words. I can take what she says (or sometimes yells) and spin it into a dialogue or a description, a drawn out scene or a snippet of a dream (I didn’t mean to make that sound like a rhyme). And then I wonder is: does that make me less of a writer because I don’t come up with all the ideas all by myself?
But to me, it’s like following a recipe: she gives me the basic ingredients, and it’s up to me to stir them all together, plop them into the right dish, stick it in the oven for the right amount of time, and hopefully by the end I’ll have a delicious pie to share (mmmm, pie). And just like with recipes, sometimes I have to modify the ingredients – a little more milk, a little less sugar/a little more of this character, a little less of this plot line – to get the best results, and that’s something that can only be learned through trial and error. It doesn’t make a chef inferior if he/she starts out their career by following recipes, right? Eventually, they’ll become confident and adventurous and impulsive and put their own spin on a classic dish – but they’ll always have their recipes to turn to when inspiration wanes.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: I am a writer. I find inspiration in the weirdest places. But sometimes I need a little guidance, a few suggestions here and there, maybe just the spark of an idea that’s going to set me off. Maybe I don’t come up with all the ideas on my own. Maybe I need someone like my sister to be a sounding board, to agree (or disagree) with my plot points, someone who cares enough about my characters to want to help tell their story.
I just found this quotation from Mel Brooks: “Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him.” Maybe I still need a push in the right direction when it comes to bringing my characters to life (or death…). But that doesn’t make me a lesser writer. It’s a learning experience. And it’s something I think all authors have to face, even if they don’t readily admit to it.
It’s hard to admit you need help doing the thing you love, but once you do, you start to realize that you’ve had the ability all along. You just need the right person (or people) to bring it out.