It doesn’t happen very often, but I had the pleasure of seeing a modern Porsche 911 drive past whilst I was walking to work this morning. Whatever you may think about the German sports car maker, they do make very distinctive looking cars. I came across a promotion film on Youtube that Porsche made years ago about their 928: even in the late 1970’s, the Porsche 928 really stood out as different amongst the other cars.
In the sea of car makes and models, it seems to be really difficult to design and build a shape that stands out. Few manage it and those that do tend to hold on to their distinctive shapes for decades. Porsche clearly does. Lamborghini does, too. The Lamborghini Countach is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable car shapes ever. And it has influenced their cars ever since. By contrast, the new sportscar from Toyota and Subaru (called the 86 from one and the BRZ from the other) is rather underwhelming, to say the least.
But wait – isn’t this a blog about writing? So why all the car talk? Because just like car shapes, your writing needs to be distinctive, too. You might have captivating dialogue, fascinating characters, scintillating descriptions and a killer story – but if your writing is no different from the next five authors in your genre, you’re going to struggle.
I had a small revelation about writing the other day. Some friends and I were larking about on Twitter with Monty Python references. Whatever you may or may not think about them, Monty Python made an indelible mark in TV comedy in general and British comedy in particular, much like The Goon Show did a generation earlier on radio.
But there was one thing that was pertinent to the conversation. And that is the incredibly fast paced, well-written dialogue. Both the Monty Python sketched and The Goon Show, as well as most successful sketch comedy written since, requires very fast characterisation. Basically, you have to be able to tell the characters apart, and strongly so, within the first few lines.
Tell Me A Story
I’ve recently rambled a bit about why I am a writer. However, that doesn’t look at the question about why I write. Or, in fact, why anyone else writes.
C. S. Lewis famously declared that as a child he was “driven to write by a severe deformity of the thumb”, which he was implying he wasn’t dextrous enough for manual labour. He probably didn’t need to claim that, though. The man clearly had a love of words and story and polished his word-smithing over many decades.
Having a story to tell is one of the best reasons to write. People like to read stories. A good story can save bad characterisation better than the other way around. And while best seller novels are usually well-written by authors who know their craft, there have been some stellar successes recently that aren’t. Rather, the basic story is captivating enough to make them sell.
I found myself wondering recently if I am a writer because I write, or I write because I’m a writer.
It’s a bit of an existential question. It’s right up there with “why do I write?” In fact, it kind of shows why the latter is quite the wrong question. A better question is “why am I a writer?”