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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Necessary qualities for a writer

   
Author Topic: Necessary qualities for a writer
Hanrod Brightstar
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Here are some qualities (not an exhaustive list by any means) which I think it is necessary for a writer to possess. They're only in a loose order. Can you think of some more? Do you think the order should be different, and if so, why? On purpose I've left out the technical skills a writer might learn along the way (ie, POV skills, knowing the difference between drama and melodrama, etc). For now I'm more interested in the qualities a person might have that might make them a good writer (eventually). I'm curious to know what other writers think about this.

Must be good at making decisions.
Must be logical AND/OR intuitive depending on what stage of development the story is at.
Must have a good memory.
Must be able to concentrate for long periods of time.
Must be able to free associate.
Must have some interest in history.
Must enjoy reading.


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jackonus
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Hi there!

Well, I'm not sure about the list.

Being BOTH logical and intuitive (and being able to turn those things on or off as needed by story development) seems too loosely defined.

Free association isn't a requirement to me. I mean, what if someone is really good at thinking through associations between concepts and expressing those in prose?

Frankly, I'm not really sure a list is possible or desirable. Sorry to be such a crank the first time I get to answer a post from you. It is a very interesting question, but I come down on the side that what makes a good author is someone who can tell a good story. We get into infinite recursion here (Okay, what makes a good story teller, etc. etc.) but I think that just points to a nother problem with making lists of essential qualities: How do you express them ALL at the same level of atomization? Would saying "must have an eye for detail" be at the same level as "must be a good listener" for example?

Maybe I'm over analyzing this?



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Survivor
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So, you want to be logical? I'll give you logical...I have a battery of questions set up at http://pub9.ezboard.com/ftheinquisitoriallibrarytheatrium to study human assumptions about logic.

Anyway, I have to say that Jack has hit on an important point.

A good writer tells stories that the audience cares about. True, it's easier for us to care about stories that we believe in, which is why I demand that writers not make dumb science errors, or portray characters contrary to my experience of how human action and motives interrelate...but the writer also has to tell a story that I find interesting, and I find the story interesting because it is about something that touches my need for validation of the precepts that I live my life by.

Of course there are a lot of precepts that I live by. Jaywalking in the middle of rush hour is foolish and inconsiderate. Man is that he might have joy. The square root of two cannot be expressed in the form of a/b, where a and b are integer numbers...(this is a long one, so I'll just skip it).

What makes a storyteller successful in engaging the audience is some form of understanding or sympathy between them, whereby the storyteller expresses his idea's and the audience is affected by those ideas. Card says that storys are needed to build and maintain communities, but it could be plausibly argued that the reverse is true, that community has to preceed story. After all, community can exist without storytelling. Bees and ants are masters of communication, but they don't tell stories to maintain their community. The community is maintained by the immutable laws of nature, an ant population that does not express instinctive community order will not be able to survive. Prehumans probably evolved under the same law of nature, they instinctively cooperated because those that didn't died.

And at some point, language was developed for utilitarian purposes, namely that of communicating sensory information gathered by one individual to others that needed to act on that information (much as the bee returns to the hive and "dances" to indicate the location of food to other bees that must help collect it). And only then, after community and language were well established, could the stories be told.

The first stories were most certainly based on the primitive form of communication, "I have seen what you have not, and I will share this information with you." Then it became, "I have thought what you have not, and I will share my thought with you." And then the wonders began....

Those first storytellers were successful because they were intimately connected to the community that they spoke to. When Wolf Eater told the story of how he found the herds and saw that they had entered a box canyon, it didn't matter that he couldn't reason his way out of a paper bag (partly because the paper bag hadn't been invented, but mostly because he would have beem more accustomed to using his teeth on that kind of problem). It didn't matter that he didn't care or even remember last week, let alone last summer. It didn't even matter than he was laconic and hated having to talk, because he wasn't very good at it.

They listened to him because he was part of them. Not just one of them, there are no individuals in such a society, part of them like an arm or an eye...now I'm getting off track.

Well, not really, I'm just going on and on, but I'm still on subject. Storytellers need to be part of the community that they tell their stories to.


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Hanrod Brightstar
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Thanks for your replies, folks. You've both made some interesting points.
Actually, judging from your answers, I think I might have somewhat misstated my objective (it's easy in hindsight! AND it was 5pm when I wrote it and since I get up quite early I was probably not at my most lucid. On the other hand it is now 12:41pm so I have no excuse for not making sense!).

I suppose what I really want to know is what qualities you have that you think help and/or hinder your writing (or lack thereof). Many of the qualities I first mentioned are ones I'd like to think help me.
I left out obvious ones like creativity, etc, but perhaps I was wrong to do so? I'm not trying to gather data for a new classification or anything, I'm just curious about other writers and their writing lives.


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Survivor
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I instinctively want the love and affection of other humans, but by logic and experience I cannot trust them.

This basic conflict puts me in the somewhat precarious position of being a writer, hoping to write to a human audience, that has nothing to say that will not alienate and offend most or even all humans.

That's just one of those things, though. I'm not sure how to beat it or even if I want to "beat" it. In point of fact I'd rather die, but since I was planning on doing that one of these days anyway...


My point? I have serious obsticles to being a successful writer.

On the plus side, I have an advantage or two..


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jackonus
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I think above-average intelligence is useful. Some people are "too smart" to be good writers (they have trouble dumbing it down for the rest of humanity). I see this a lot in my field of statistical data analysis. There are lots of people out there who can analyze data far better than I can, but very few of those are good at telling a story with the data.

I think good writing comes from life experience. I didn't think this when I had no life experience, but now I cling to it like a life preserver, helping me not to sink into despair over not having been a wunderkind.

So, now that the question has been reformulated, I think the things that help me the most are a willingness to spend long hours alone, a somewhat superior attitude toward my fellow man, and an ability to laugh at myself.

If Survivor weren't already perfect, I'd think I was.

The ability to communicate complicated ideas in a clear manner is key. That comes from really understanding the issue, but not being so involved in it that you can't remember what it was like not to understand it. Some people are really good at this, but I bet they make lousy scientists. It would be exceedingly rare to have a truly practicing scientist be a good author of popular fiction, I bet.

Hmm... Hope this makes sense, my sinuses are killing me and I think the pressure has shaved 10% off my operating IQ.


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Survivor
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Hey, anyone else here find that yourself a lot less kind and all when you're indisposed?

I'm not sure how much less intelligent I am, but I'm sure that when I don't feel good, I get a lot meaner. I kind of wonder which I'd rather if I had the choice...(and don't tell me that I do have the choice, that'll just irritate me despite my not being sick )


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jackonus
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Gosh, was I being harsh? Sorry. I've noticed lately that I've gone from being a pathetic whiner when I'm sick to being a surly grouch when I'm sick. But maybe adversity just brings out the true person underneath? In which case, I've grown!!!

Does it help any to say that I really regret my meanspirited tone in that last post? I was going for humorous curmudgeon, but I think I must've missed by a smidgeon. (Wow, a sentence including two words with the -dgeon ending!!!) Now THAT's an essential quality for a writer! -Dgeon endings and an ability to produce the odd triple entendre.

Now leave me alone. My nose is running and I have to go catch it.


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Shasta
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I'm not sure I agree with the IQ thing... especially since psychology thinks it's overrated.

I do think there is a spark, though, in writers. A spark that wants to share or translation mental images and feelings into something people can taste, touch and feel by reading symbols etched on a page.

Musicians, writers, painters, carvers, dancers... we're all the same and I've known some really good ones that weren't that smart (IQ wise) but extremely intelligent when it came to their craft.

I think the only quality needed to make a good writer, is the desire to write.

However, if you wanted to talk about what gets a writer rich, well, that's something else and it's not always talent.


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Survivor
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Yes, well, if you want to be a rich writer, then there's a very important qualification.

You have to have a lot of money.


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Shasta
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This brings to mind an interview I saw on CNN or the Morning Show, something like that, where a publisher was being questioned about the quality of writing. I don't recall the publisher or the exact program, since it wasn't important to me... so don't ask.

During the discussion, the interviewer asked: "Why does it seem the good writers don't always get published as the bad writers do? Pull out a popular book, and you'll find problems in it from plot to character... what's going on?"

To which the publisher said: "Good writers aren't as persistent as bad writers."

<grin>

OSC is, of course, excluded as he is one of the good writers who overcame this problem.


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