If you had asked me when I was in college or graduate school what I liked about writing, I would have said (a bit stuffily, I admit), “language.” I didn’t mean the language of R-rated movies but the language of William Faulkner or Jorge Luis Borges. I loved the complex ways the words fit together, the layers of meaning, the density of the prose.
If you ask me now what I love about writing—and reading—I will unabashedly say, “the stories.” Though I do still appreciate a good turn of phrase, I no longer enjoy words just for words’ sake. I want them to speak to me. Really, this is part of the age-old war between high culture and low culture, between art for the elite and art for the masses, a battle in which I’m idealistic enough to believe there’s a middle ground.
The shift in my thinking became clearer over the last few weeks as I spent time reading a fellow author’s manuscript. Her book is of a genre—young adult fantasy—that I don’t usually read. And yet, by the second chapter, I was captivated. Had my younger self been reading, she no doubt would have deconstructed the sentences and would snootily have huffed that they were rather ordinary. Luckily, my older self was doing the reading. She was immediately drawn in to the lives of the characters, feeling affection for them and wanting to know what would happen to them next.
Rather than aspiring to be a writer, I now aspire to be a storyteller. That doesn’t mean I need to write cliché-filled pulp or that my books must be filled with nonstop action, but it does mean I pay close attention to drawing readers in and giving them something to look forward to on every page.
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