The written word defies the laws of physics. Right now, as you read this, the author of these words could be parasailing in Grand Cayman, or tied to a chair in the belly of an abandoned oil tanker while being pistol-whipped by thugs (a case of mistaken identity, surely), or (gasp) even dead. Okay, that last one’s a bit morbid, but the only thing you can be relatively certain of is that on Sunday, when I wrote this, I was none of the above.
But do you see what’s going on here? I’m talking to you from the past. Yup. We’re time traveling. I don’t know what “voice” you imagine when you read my words (I hope it’s a resonant, clever & sexy voice and not Steve Buscemi’s nasally weasel-whine), but the thing is… I’m not really speaking them, am I. It’s all in your head.
And that, my writing friends, is the magic of the written word. It takes on a life of its own the moment it lands on the page for someone else to read. And while all writing does this little trick to some degree, the best writing does more than simply speak from the author’s yesterday – it takes you to places you otherwise might never go, introduces you to people you otherwise would never meet.
Have you taken a train to Hogwarts? Stared in awe at Mt. Doom? Have you listened to Reuben Land’s asthmatic wheezing? Fought cold and fear with father and son as they walked Cormac’s Road? Felt the ache and uncertainty of Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting’s honeymoon night on Chesil Beach?
The mark of a truly excellent story is its ability to grant you the impossible gift of living someone else’s life – to feel his or her pain, fear, wonder, joy. When you read a great novel, the words on the page dissolve into adopted memories nearly as real as the once-lived ones.
Does your novel do this? Or is it just a bunch of words on the page? Here’s an easy way to find out. Give your story to someone who doesn’t have to sleep with you at the end of the day. Ask him or her to read it, then… forget you asked. In a month or two, go back and ask what they thought. If their eyes light up and they recall a character or a story element in great detail, that’s probably a good sign (at least of that particular story element). If they say, “It was good” and that’s all? I think you have some work to do. (If they say “it was pure crap,” then surely they don’t know good literature – or maybe it was pure crap.)
Okay. That’s all. Nothing really earth shattering today. I mean, it’s Sunday after all, right? What’s that? It’s not?
Pretty cool trick, don’t you think?
Don’t forget about the “First and Last” writing contest. Still plenty of time to enter.