As I’ve mentioned before, I attended a brief-residency MFA program that emphasized the inter-relatedness of the arts. Over the ten intense days of the residency, besides attending workshops and lectures on writing, and, ahem, staying up late socializing, we visiting museums and went to plays and musical performances.
Yes, it was way too much fun to be legal. And I learned a helluva lot about writing (and teaching writing).
Every residency we had a cross-genre exercise that everyone had to take part in. So, one October we all had to write poetry, and the next May we’d all have to write a children’s story. And so forth. This was often the cause of much good-natured groaning.
However, its been almost four years since I graduated, and more and more I see the wisdom of this approach. Because, really, all writing is connected.
I just started reading Dan Kennedy’s The Ultimate Sales Letter (I know, once again, I’m late to the party), and he has a whole section on "Get ‘Into’ The Customer." He urges copywriters to figure out what potential customers are angry about, what they fear, what they desire. Then he talks about a visualization technique whereby he imagines that customer opening the mail, in full detail. Does she stand by the wastebasket as she opens mail, tossing things in after a quick glance? What is she thinking about as she opens the mail? What are her concerns? Kennedy’s goal is to paint as full a picture of this potential customer as possible.
As I was reading this, I was so struck by how similar this exercise is to developing characters for fiction. When writing a novel, it is important to know your main characters so thoroughly (after all, you are going to spending a great deal of time with them) that you know every details of their lives, loves, and daily routine.
You will know the name of your character’s best friend from childhood, and the street he grew up on. You’ll know his religious affiliation, the kind of car he drives, and where he works. You’ll know that he a bizarre affection for teddy bears and always drinks beer on Sunday. And that’s just the beginning–because once you’ve figured out all the surface stuff, you’re going to go a layer deeper and figure out the why of all of this surface stuff.
So its the same whether you are sussing out the psyche of a potential customer or designing the inner life of a character.
I’ve taken to calling myself a Renaissance writer in a niche world (I’m going to be writing an article on this soon) because I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t have to wear many hats to make a living at this game.
And the reason why we writers can do this is because, it’s all related. The same basic rules guide every genre. Physicists are discovering that we are all related and even the slightest, most inconsequential thing has an effect on the greater whole.
Writing is just a hologram of that. And that is pretty damn cool.
P.S.–(The PS is an important aspect of the winning sales letter, but I honestly just remembered this). I wrote a similar post over at my poor neglected sister blog, A Freelance Writer’s Life. You can read it here.
P.S.S. (Or should it be P.P.S.? I can never remember) I really am going to resuscitate A Freelance Writer’s Life. Truly. I have big plans for it, including a very long, multi-part series on freelancing on the Internet AND other excited stuff for writers. So stay tuned.