As writers we are constantly told to, show, don't tell. Don't describe, but incorporate instead. What exactly does that mean? To put it most simply, let your characters give the information you want the reader to have, through their own thoughts and dialogue. This is often very difficult to do, especially when, despite all of your research, you just do not have enough actual working knowledge of your topic to let your characters do the work for you. In a round-about fashion this relates to the title of today's blog. How do you get comfortable enough to let your characters carry the story for you?
The simplest way is to write what you know. If you are totally familiar with your topic it only makes sense that your characters will be totally familiar as well. It also helps to cut down on research, allows you to express yourself more clearly, and you can draw on your experiences within the topic to make the topic real to your readers.
Which brings me to my writing topics, and why I think that they work for me and my readers. During the introductory comments of a recent talk I gave, I was discussing my early life, and I suddenly realized that my upbringing was not normal! Not normal was not bad, it was just different. We hunted and fished, did winter camping, owned a fishing camp, did nuisance trapping for Douglas Lake Cattle Company, and yet I still ended up playing professional baseball for a short time. Our family lived a subsistence lifestyle for a few years where the only income we had came from the odd logging work my did could pick up, and the trapping that we did, and yet we were well versed in classical, pop, folk and country music. Then, of course, there were our pets; dogs, cats, budgies, regular forest squirrels, plus the hilarious flying squirrels, chickens, tumbler pigeons, a rather vicious lynx that we had for a VERY short time, and of course our crow, Squawker! My childhood experiences drew me to books about similar topics. To this day they remain some of my most influential reads. Books like Sterling North's, Rascal, Farley Mowat's, Owls In the Family and Lost In the Barrens, my all time favourite, Robert Ruark's, The Old Man and the Boy, the Sackett westerns of Louis L'Amour and many of Gary Paulsen's books, all were based on a lifestyle I not only lived, but was fascinated by.
My upbringing presented me with an untold number of opportunities for storytelling and, eventually, book writing. I started with regaling my classes with stories of Squawker and his crazy antics, the flying squirrels and their nocturnal habits, my dog and his nightly face-offs with the coyotes, and stories of my growing up hunting and fishing and trapping. It was a different enough lifestyle and seemed so much more exciting than their's were that they begged me for more stories. I had always wanted to be a writer so I made the decision to put some of my Squawker stories into print. It was the best decision I ever made regarding writing. I wrote what I knew and the stories have appealed to a larger audience, both child and adult.
I have always believed that a good story comes from the heart. Your joy in telling the story should communicate itself through your writing, and it can't if you haven't lived it. As your writing matures you can begin to draw on the values inherent in your storytelling, and that will allow you to expand your topics to areas outside your initial interests. Some of my very best writing has nothing to do with Squawker, but certainly draws on the values that make Squawker so appealing.
As an aside, there is a new Squawker book on the nearby horizon. The art work is being done as we speak. Look for it, hopefully by mid-October. The title is, Squawker: Friends Aren't Free. It is a true story of Squawker's friendship issues, and how he and Dog finally figured out what worked for them.
Talk to you soon, Jeff