Years ago when I first had a very short story published, a friend said to me: "Don't you get all uppity now that you're published. Don't start using those big words."
He knew very well I grew up in the head of a holler in southeast Kentucky, and we didn't know a thing about those big words. We just wrote it like it was. And that's the key to good writing: Write it like it is.
Creating a tutorial on Writing is a very difficult challenge for me, mostly because I really don't consider myself much of a writer. I am a good storyteller, and I can paint good pictures. Usually I just stir the two together. I think it is a combination of the two that creates easy reading, and most of us enjoy words that are easy to read, words that paint pictures on the canvas of our minds.
But let's talk about 'Writing'. There are two kinds, Creative and Factual. Some of us write creatively and some write factually. The absolute best writing comes from those who can do both: inform and entertain, all at the same time. And the best way to do that is by using words that feel comfortable to us.
A lot of contemporary writers tell us to rid ourselves of extraneous words, write only what is necessary. But the truth is, words need color, sentences need action and stories need a little fluff.
If you want to be a strong writer, one who is read by others, then the first thing you need is a good grasp of the language and excellent grammar. Writing in a vernacular (the language of a region or group) is a fun thing but if you can't write even the simplest vernacular in a way that can be read easily, then it won't be worth reading. So, before you start writing, be sure you are up to the challenge that commas, paragraphs, spelling, quotation marks and vernacular appropriate to your story present to you. Know your grammar and be comfortable with your words.
There are many grammar tutorials on the web. Just Google 'grammar' and you'll find them. They'll probably bore you to tears, but most of them will be helpful. Be careful you don't get bogged down in rules, though, because as I already mentioned, if you can talk, you can write. Just remember to add a period or comma whenever you need to take a breath.
How many ways can you say "The cow jumped over the moon"? Let's try and see:
1) "Did you see that cow? She raised her front legs, reached for the sky, then kicked her back legs and launched herself right over that moon! Wow!" (Simple, but colorful, you get the picture.)
2) "The cow was standing quietly in the moonlight. She watched silently as the moon rose higher and higher. With no provocation, not one gentle nudge, she leaped toward the sky and sailed in a slow graceful arc across the top of the moon." (This is called 'creating a mood', but is very stiff, nothing to smile about.)
3) "The moonlight cast shadows on the cow, causing her soft brown hide to dapple. She turned, raised her head, to see where the dancing light came from. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, she spooked and jumped wildly across the top of the moon." (Here's the 'surprise' factor, combined with setting the mood.)
4) "Watch that crazy cow! I ain't got no idea what she's been eatin' but looks to me like she's gonna jump right over that moon. Jes' watch her. She ain't got no sense a'tall. Crazy ol' cow! Lookit her go! Man alive!!! She jes' jumped right on over the top o' that ol' moon." (Writing in vernacular, local color, and a lot of action. It tells us a lot about area, region and attitude. Fun to read too.)
Silly, yes, but a good exercise to get you writing, and the more challenges you play around with, the easier writing becomes for you.
Begin with a simple concept: "The tree trunk is brown."
Is that tree trunk really brown? Look more closely. "The tree trunk is rough, with cracks in the gray bark that look much like red veins crawling up and down the tree. Blue gray shadows lay beside the white sunlit peaks of the bark." If I were painting that picture, I doubt I'd even use any brown. I wouldn't write the word when describing it either.
So train your eyes to see, and your ears to hear the words around you. Talk with people, listen to the song in their voices, hear the way their words string themselves together as they tell you their stories. Listen to the rhythm around you, and then put it all into words.
Till now, we've been talking only about simple sentences and paragraphs. Writing a short story or an article requires more than that. You need an introduction, then the body, and then a conclusion. In other words:
*Once upon a time...
*They fell in love and eloped...
*After their parents got over the shock, they lived happily ever after.
That's your basic outline. How you color it is up to you. Most of us flavor the story with our own experiences and that's where close observation of people and things around you come into play. That's where remembering what you have heard comes in handy.
I carry a notebook around with me, and whenever I see something unusual or colorful, I write words that describe it. When I talk with folks, I often write their words before they are forgotten. When I hear a song, glimpse a road sign, or hear a colorful phrase, I jot it down. They become the inspiration I must have when I sit down to write.
We all have words within us, we all have experiences to draw from and most of us who enjoy writing should read everything we can get our hands on. We can learn a lot from others.
All this is to introduce you to short writings, inspiration to get you started. Next time, we'll talk about writing complete short stories. I hope you will join me then, too.
So how many ways can you say: "The cow jumped over the moon"? Try and see what you can do with that simple phrase. You might be pleasantly surprised. And I'll challenge you to share your cow writings with us right here in the comment threads. Free and simple entertainment, don't you think? Who knows, they might even be inspiring.