Thursday, August 20, 2015

Using Your Powers for Good - Writing with integrity

Writers want to attract readers. They want them to keep turning the pages and to have wonderful experiences. They want the last pages of any work to be satisfying, and often provocative. And, okay, sometimes they want to be liked, too.

Part of developing the craft of writing is developing the tools to connect with readers. This starts with understanding who the readers are and what the concepts and concerns are that are apt to make good stories for them. What characters do they want to read about? How far can you stretch reality and still be authentic? What are their expectations, and where is it okay to push the boundaries? Vocabulary, mood, genre, attention span, and pacing are all, largely, dictated by the intended reader.

Blurbs, titles, hooks and glorious language can get the readers started. Character, worldbuilding, beats, cliffhangers, dialogue, and twists and turns immerse the reader in the story and keep him or her up past their bedtimes.

Endings answer the story question and often do more by resonating with readers so effectively they often can't wait to talk to friends about the story and they seek out other works by the same author.

Everything in the tale is clear, seamless, and filled with emotion. There is nothing extraneous.

When you've mastered these powers, you have the ability to entertain and possibly educate. You may be able to do things like comfort the afflicted, influence, inform, advise, provoke, and guide. You can use your power for good in a world of wonders, but also a world of confusion, malice, ignorance, deception, fear, and anxiety.

You can also use your power recklessly, selfishly, and in support of evil. And you probably will. After all, writers are embedded in a world of confusion, malice, ignorance, deception, fear, and anxiety. If you read classic literature, you'll see that even the most faithful, brilliant, and enlightened writers were sometimes blind to the bigotry, unfairness, and falsehoods of their times. You will, with good intentions, do the same.

Don't do it on purpose. Don't use what you've learned as a writer and communicator to write propaganda (not even for the side you believe in). Don't pander to the worst and most ignorant aspects of your readers. Don't sell out.

There is honor in constructing a well-formed argument in a speech, but not in providing false context or intentional omissions that "spin" an idea. You can write an article spelling out an new idea in business, but the flaws and problems need to be noted. You can make a point of filling your novel with characters that portray the diversity of human experience, but the characters need to live and breathe, not just fill a quota.

There is a line between engaging and manipulating, and it's often difficult to define. My guide is never to violate the trust readers have in me. I must write to the limit of my skill and talent. I must tell the truth as I know it. And I must have the best interests of readers and those in the audience in mind.

Wherever you are in your writer's journey, if you keep this in mind, you'll be acting with integrity. You'll, on the whole, be using your powers for good.

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