Playing to your Strengths

This is my second in-depth tutorial. I thought it would be a good idea to let you further into the writer’s studio and delve into an important aspect of any author’s craft. This is playing to the strengths which a writer possesses. This is especially crucial when we are talking about a writer of fiction. By concentrating his full resources on what he believes he is good at a writer gives himself his best chance of striking gold when it comes to publishing his book.

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What do I mean by this? Well, let’s take an example from a completely different sphere which I think will bear out what I am driving at here. Let’s enter the world of sport and, in particular the world of football (or soccer as my American followers would term it). A goalkeeper has his strengths. He is good at saving shots from the opposition. Most likely he is very agile with a spring in his feet which allows him to dive across his goal and pull off great saves. He will have good, strong hands which enables him to either hold the ball in his hands from a shot aimed at his goal or else parry it to safety. He is a specialist in his field. He knows his strengths and plays to them. If he was transplanted from his goal and moved further upfield he would fail miserably as he would be trying to use skills which he did not possess. Taken another way from the opposite end of the field, a striker is known for his ability to shoot or head for goal. His job is to score goals, not save them. He could well be fast which allows him to get ahead of the defence and to find himself in scoring positions. He probably has a strong head to rise in the air to nod crosses into the back of the net. These, then, are his skills and he is very successful using them, but put him in goal and he will suddenly become a fish out of water as he is now in an alien position which he is not suited for.

Okay, an interesting analogy, but what am I really driving at here? What can saving and scoring goals have to do with a guy who sits at his desk writing stories? Well, it all comes down to the idea that we all have strengths. It does not matter what walk of life we come from it is important always to know what we are good at and, if possible, improve those qualities through time with dedicated practice. This is very true of the writing profession. An author is only as good as his last story. He has always to strive to improve his craft in any way he can and not only for his own personal satisfaction. The publishing world is a very competitive business and an author has always to have an eye on his prospective readership. What would they like to see from him? Would they want him to suddenly switch genres at the drop of a hat and move in a completely different direction, a pathway which is as alien to him as putting on a goalkeeper’s gloves would be to a striker in my football example? No, I do not believe they would. They started liking the author because they loved his storylines whatever they may have been. They believe they have built up a bond of trust with the writer and when this has been broken it can never be repaired.

I would like to take this idea a stage further if I may. The subject of what genre an author writes in is an intriguing one. Should an author always remain within his own genre or is it okay for him to step out of his comfort zone and write in a different one? This all depends on the writer, of course. But in my own case I have branched out a little in a different direction. I have written horror novels for a long time, in particular supernatural novels about ghosts. This is my bread and butter. But more recently I have moved into a sort of cross genre. This is horror/fantasy. Horror still plays a leading part in my novels as do ghosts but I have loved bringing in a fantasy element. So in this case I have still remained inside my own personal boundaries but ventured slightly outside them to touch on another genre. But if I was to move from the horror genre and start writing a romantic novel that would be a drastic change. I would not wish to do this as I believe the horror genre is one of the most inventive, creative and powerful genres out there. In contrast, I find modern-day romances bland and trivial in the extreme. They do nothing for me so I have no interest in them.

It is my strongly held belief that writers of fiction should have a passion for what they are writing about. If they are excited about their storylines there is a fair chance their readers will be as well. But if they are writing on a subject which does not inspire them then this will come out in the writing. It will appear listless and lifeless and nobody wants to read stories like that. The passion a writer has for his work falls under the category of a strength for sure. It brings a special power to whichever tale he is writing and drives the storyline on with energy and panache.

If a writer has been writing in a genre for a long time and has been very successful in doing it he would be foolish to change tack and start writing in a completely different area of writing. The only time I think it should be considered is if the author feels he has become stale by writing in the same genre for so long and wishes to re-invent himself as a writer. By shifting direction he will find a new challenge awaiting him which might enable him to writer with renewed energy.

I know of writers who use local dialects in their storylines. This can be very effective but you have to know what you are doing to pull it off. If you have a real ‘feel’ for a particular dialect then it can give a storyline a new angle which can be very powerful. But is this a strength of a particular author? If it is not this would be a very unwise move. For myself I would never attempt to write for my characters in local dialects because I know I would not be able to do justice to the storyline if I were to do so. It is not a strength of mine as a writer, so I leave it well enough alone, but I applaud those who are skilled at this practice, one of these is actually a friend of mine. So kudos to him!

I think it is a definite strength of an author if he keeps within his limitations. I know this may sound restrictive but it really isn’t. No writer is a complete master of every area of his craft. There are aspects of the writing life which authors are good at and others which they are less so. We need to understand as creative artists that we have a tool box which is peculiar to us and us alone. Some of us have a wide vocabulary which can be put to good use. Some of us are wonderful at creating inventive plots. Some of us are particularly good at dialogue. I definitely believe this is a strength of mine.

The angle of vocabulary is an interesting one. There are some writers out there who I believe think they are more intelligent than they are. They use long words almost as a way of showing off. I do not respect this sort of writing. If a reader has to continually be dipping into a dictionary to find out what the author was meaning then this should not to be applauded. To me this is not a strength but a definite weakness. There is nothing wrong with using simple words when it fits the storyline. There is also nothing wrong with using more complex words, but there is a definite risk of overdoing it which can lead to the reader losing the thread of the storyline. This is something to be avoided at all costs.

Categories:My In-Depth Tutorials

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