May the gods give me strength!
I do not do well during the holiday season. It’s a tough time for me. I’ve lost far too many loved ones in Decembers-passed, so now I just hunker down and try to get through them intact and relatively-well balanced emotionally. I don’t say that to find sympathy. I’m just keeping it real and telling it like it is.
In fact, Bev and I haven’t done a Christmas tree in the last five years. We tightened our belts on spending, now limiting our Christmas gift giving to one present each, and we actually tell each other what to buy. I want a drone; Bev wants a new laptop computer.
I’m not against the holiday hustle and bustle and traditions; I’m just unable to muster up any sort of emotional investment in it all. I truly hope that the holiday season brings much joy to you all reading this, but I’ll spend it binging on Netflix, thank you very much, and stuffing pumpkin pie down my throat.
Let’s see what we have for mail this week. We start off with a great question about reading habits and the search for nuance.
Nuance and Being Innovative
From Keith (cool alias): “Brilliant words on nuance - oh so true for those of us with a little imagination. However, from what I see from people's reading habits, it seems like folks just want to read the same thing over and over again. Maybe the same holds true in art - Van Gogh died penniless because people in his time just didn't get him. Even my own mother listens to the same detective novel audiobook, over and over again, bless her soul. Different name, different author, but pretty much the same book. She's been through hundreds of these, essentially carbon copies of one another.
“What does that say for the writer trying to introduce something innovative, when most readers don't like innovation? Writing what everybody else is writing is just boring, who wants to do that, but if you don't stick to a certain formula you don't have a chance of seeing your name in print, it seems.
“Maybe you could expand your conversation on nuance, a little.”
It’s funny you mentioned your mother and mysteries. I am a huge mystery fan, but I have found most mysteries to be dull at best, simply because most of them seem to be a regurgitation of some popular formula. I’m always hounding on James Patterson, but in my mind it’s with good reason: Patterson is mediocre at best, and he’s simply riding on the coattails of his considerable fame, producing novel after novel after novel, every six months, with no apparent nod towards improving his craft. In fact, the great percentage of his novels are now written by ghostwriters, and yet it hasn’t affected his sales at all.
Today, if I want an outstanding mystery, I patiently wait for James Lee Burke to produce another one. He is worth the wait in my humble opinion.
I think times are changing, Keith. I think our convenience society is too much in a hurry, and most people cannot sit down long enough to read a novel of any depth, if they read at all. Reading a novel takes time, time which could be spent on social media. I know that sounds snippy, but it’s what I believe.
Any writer, truly talented and truly innovative, is going to have a tough time getting recognized in this new world. It’s just the nature of the beast. Maybe some day we will have a massive crash of the internet, and people will be forced to once again sit down with a real book and appreciate it.
As for nuance, defined as “a subtle distinction or variation,” it is, I believe, that which separates one writer from another, the ability to tell a story, write a novel, or even write an informative article in such a way that it stands out from the millions which came before. It is hard to nail down. I find it difficult to put it into words when I see it in print. I mentioned James Lee Burke earlier. He is an outstanding mystery writer who has nuance. His style screams originality, but if you were to ask me to describe it further, I would have a hard time doing that.
Let me put it this way. I try not to tell a story. Instead, I try to drag the reader into the story and force them to live it. That, for me, is my attempt at nuance. And that would be my advice to other writers. There are millions, if not billions, of storytellers. What makes your storytelling unique, interesting, and worth reading? In other words, my time is limited. Why should I spend a portion of that time reading your work?
For a good writer, nuance is the answer to that question.
From Robert: “How do you connect your emotions to the story you are writing? I’m speaking, of course, about creative writing, short stories, and novels.”
This question pops up quite often, so I’m assuming a great many of you out there have a similar problem.
I believe it was another Robert, Robert Frost, who said: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” It’s an important point to remember when writing a short story or a novel.
In order to do this, the writer must live vicariously through the characters, or inside of the main characters. The writer must feel what the characters feel, and translate those feelings into words. The best way I know of how to do this is to remember times in your life of intense emotional pain, of intense emotional happiness, and so on. Try to put those feelings into words for the characters. If you do your job properly, as a writer, your readers will relate to those emotions, and your story, or book, has a better chance of becoming memorable.
It is this same approach that most actors take. They become their characters. They live the scene, and they draw upon similar events in their lives which caused intense emotions. There was a famous acting coach (was it Strasburg?) who taught acting using this method.
From Alice: “I wrote a short story about five years ago, but now I’m thinking of re-writing it. Do you think that re-writing makes a story better?”
Not necessarily, no, Alice! Re-writing makes a story different, but there is no reason to believe it will improve upon the original. You are most likely a different writer today than you were five years ago, but that does not mean you are a better writer, or that you suddenly have the skills which will transform that old story into a new, vibrant one.
If you want to re-write that story, by all means do it. It will prove to be an interesting writing exercise. But I wouldn’t begin that exercise thinking you will suddenly write a masterpiece where once there was only an average story. It doesn’t work that way.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Life
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful month of December. Just for the heck of it, do something nice for yourself during this season of giving. You deserve it.
Question for the Mailbag? The best way to get it to me is email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can also comment/leave a message on my Facebook page under Bill Holland.
Blessings to you all, and thank you for your friendship.
2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”