JK: Faulkner's Three Rules
William Faulkner is quoted as saying that “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”
This is reassuring for me since there are times when I don’t feel the least bit imaginative as a writer. That’s when I make myself pay attention to what’s going on around me: the way a man stands as he talks on the cell phone at the airport; how a woman either bends down to tend her child in the stroller or bends over or maybe just ignores him; the way a child plays hide and seek with her father’s coat in the restaurant while they wait for a table. All of those observations, however small and insignificant, are character marks; ways of helping people see themselves inside stories.
I was asked to look at a chapter of a book that is a fantasy and while it was well written, had wonderful commentary about the period and the time and was well imagined, I said to myself, “Well, this isn’t my kind of story but I bet it’ll do well in that market.” But a good story speaks to us no matter what the genre and I think a great part of that is bringing the observations one experiences in the every day into the present experience. The knight who travels through time ought to be someone I can identify with even if I don’t particularly like knight and time travel stories.
Those authors who can do that give us ourselves. That’s just one reason why the parables are so rich and memorable: they engage us. We never lived in that time period. We never saw a son running with his cloak toward the father with open arms. We never saw an unclean woman risk death by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak. But we know fractured families and we know what it’s like to be so desperately alone and to have just a small amount of courage left, enough to reach for the healing source of our lives.
My thought for today is that you would indeed observe and imagine and experience. But in your writing, remember you’ll need all three to engage your readers and one way to do that is to make the reader experience what your character does regardless of the time period or the genre.
Jane Kirkpatrick is experiencing readers in public places as she promotes her latest A Tendering in the Storm. Visit her online at www.jkbooks.com.