I used to ask the question “How do I know when I have written something really well?” I was lost and it seemed all of the people that I looked up to for guidance couldn’t answer that question. Today I stumbled on not just the answer for me, but also the reason why none of my teachers could answer that question.
I was re-reading last weeks updates to my story, so I could get back in the groove, after taking an uncharacteristic weekend off from writing. I was half-way through the weeks work, when I caught myself laughing out loud to something one of my characters said. I have explained before, in another post, that I do create the characters but after that, I let them react naturally to their situation, environment, and history. That is why I rarely take credit for something witty my characters say, because I feel like it is exactly how that person would have reacted.
I finally got the feeling that has alluded me for so long. I was able to temporarily live in that world with them. I was able to feel the confusion one of my characters must have been going through. I felt my work as I read it. It is one of the greatest feelings as a writer.
When I told my wife about my a-ha moment, she looked at me as if I were slow. My wife is an amazing artist and I marvel at how effortless she makes it look to paint a scene, draw a person, sketch a thought, or even capture a feeling on canvas. If I had asked an artist, my epiphany would probably not have shocked me as much at three A.M. This is common knowledge for them, and taught on day one.
I took this new information and went back to read some old work from my teacher’s. It didn’t take long for me to realize not only is the definition of “writing well” fluid, it is subjective. The more I read, the more sad I became. I couldn’t find the spark in any of their writings. They used perfect form, a wide scope of imagery and base description, and interestingly complex plots. All of this perfection, and yet, the stories were flat. Many of the characters felt ramrodded into place to provide the perfect foil for the main character to get an idea across. In the end, the sad truth of why they couldn’t answer me was that they didn’t know either.
I know each of them could pick the bones clean from anything I write, and I welcome them to do it. I am terrible at using correct punctuation, using tropes from time to time, and references only a few would get. So I will never be an editor. Instead I will create, and let my characters do what they must.