Category Archives: Writing

Do you have what it takes to be a good liar?

In other words, are you a good writer? *

Now, don’t feel insulted. Fact is, both accomplished writers and liars have the ability to recognize and accommodate other people’s point of view. If you aren’t sensitive to how others perceive your message, you can’t tell a believable story.

The above video illustrates how to determine a person’s lying ability in just a few seconds. (Hint: Have someone you trust watch the video and give YOU the test.)

And of course, there are the finer points of storytelling and lying to consider as well, such as knowing how to stimulate your audience’s imagination with just the right details that give your tale the appearance of reality. Achieving verisimilitude, like any other skill, takes practice.

There’s also a psychological element at work here. Both liars and writers enjoy being the center of attention. (Although you could argue that writers, who are introverts wrestling with extroverted cravings, really want an admiring audience kept at a safe distance.)

After all, the ability to lie is at the heart of what we do. Writers strive to craft an attractive and entertaining untruth. Isn’t that the definition of fiction? As Stephen King put it, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” The goal of fiction is to lure and enchant your audience so you can impart the larger meanings and deeper truths that originally inspired you to take up the challenge.

* Full disclosure: My wife gave me this test. Yeah, I passed.

Quote of the day

“As a fiction writer, the act had an immediate, recognizable weight to it; the imagined reality Jay had created in the act felt like the embodiment of good fiction writing. I began to consider the connections between the two crafts of magic and fiction writing, wondering what might be gleaned about the process of creating living fictions. The suspension of disbelief required by both reader and audience member. The inherent tension between believability and deception. The materialization of something where there once was nothing.” – Gabriel Urza

5 Ways to Earn Your Audience’s Loyalty

audience loyalty

At her Helping Writers Become Authors blog, K.M. Weiland has shared some marvelous insights for both writers and readers. It’s her latest in a series of posts analyzing the success of Marvel comics and movies, and as a long-time fan of both, I must agree with all of her major points. (Hint: The secret is not the special effects, not the marketing, not the acting, though those elements are outstanding. It’s the writing.)

Bottom line: You’re cheating yourself if you don’t read Weiland’s post. It’s well worth your time as a reader and writer.

I was especially impressed by her second point, that the most engaging, emotionally satisfying stories arise not from pandering to the audience, but from remaining true to one’s vision as author. As Weiland puts it:

Sometimes you’ll hear fans talking about getting the story “we deserve.” To this, I say phooey. The only thing audiences deserve is a good story well-told. They don’t deserve to have all their personal theories or wishes validated.

While there’s no formula for crafting a good story, there is a fundamental principle you can’t ignore, and that comes down to the author being in control of a story they find compelling. In Weiland’s words, the author “must be the story’s single greatest fan.” Yes! Write stories you want to read. And the strange thing is that the most personal works achieve the greatest public appeal.

Of course, there are those other little details in learning and perfecting the craft, such as reading a lot and writing a lot. But without the author’s emotional investment, a work lacks life, lacks purpose. Our job is to make the story real.

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

Mark Twain

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a beloved literary legend. Compiled by Mark.

G. Edward SmithBusting Myths About Writing & Writers
Jim HarringtonWhat Do Editors Want?
M. L. DavisWriter Worries and How to Beat Them
Jack CunninghamToo Many Characters?
Ash ReedThe importance of writing short stories
K. L. WagonerWriting Character Emotions Just Got Easier
Mickey MasonHow to Read Like a Writer
Mark Twain12 Timeless Writing Tips

Quote of the day

Shelby Foote“The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth — not a different truth: the same truth — only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.” Shelby Foote, author and historian

How writers win

Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks by Erika Hall
Writers, says writer and iron-pumper Ross Mcindoe, often express their craft through the sports they play. Think: Hemingway and boxing, Mishima and karate, John Irving and wrestling. Oliver Sacks, says Mcindoe, found challenge, fulfillment, and self-expression in weightlifting. Like boxing, weightlifting reflects many characteristics of the craft and discipline of writing. Says Mcindoe:

Lifting is at once highly solitary—a solo sport in which most of your time is spent in competition with yourself—and highly communal. Even as each person pursues their own interior quest, the weight room makes everything public.

Sound familiar? We can attend writing workshops, go to critique groups for advice, meet with beta readers and benefit from other people’s expertise, but the act of getting the words right and putting them down is a solitary act. And yet, it’s communal, too, because our ultimate goal is to communicate something meaningful and personal to others.

More important, the lifter or boxer or runner cannot help but compare themselves to others. This can be instructive, but it can be a trap, too, not just for the athlete but for the writer:

When we look at the person lifting next to us, all we see is the weight on the bar and how easily they can move it. We get a rough, visual sense of how their size compares to ours but we don’t see how long they have been training in the sport or how intensely. We don’t see the other factors in their lives—work, health, money—which can contribute or detract from their success.

It’s the same in writing. We see only the results, not the work: snapshots of success with all the necessary failures left out beyond the frame.

Admit it (I will!) — we see other writers and wonder why we can’t get published. Why did such-and-such get a lucrative publishing contract while I can’t even get a poem published in a non-paying literary magazine?

That’s when the sports connection comes in. When you feel that you’re not succeeding, you need to remember that the real contest is the old you versus the you you’re becoming. Like Oliver Sacks realizing he had only fooled himself about what he thought was his best effort in weightlifting, the writer should strive for nothing more than to make himself better than he used to be. Failure is NOT having your manuscript rejected; failure is when you stop trying.

As Sacks realized, there’s always something new we can explore. Try a new genre, read a book on improving your writing style, sharpen your grammatical skills. That’s winning, and there’s nothing quite like discovering how many ways there are to win.