Lion tamer (LOC collection)

When I think about the profession of fiction writing, I picture a lion tamer surrounded by and trying to control a cage full of big dangerous cats.

The lion tamer’s job? Control all of the savage beasts and don’t get eaten.

The fiction writer’s job? Control the angry lions of World Building, Characterization, Setting, Description, Plotting, and Story Architecture and don’t lose the reader.

We writers of fiction have a responsibility to provide an entertaining interval for our readers, a time when the reader can go away from whatever is his particular burden. John Graham speaks of the “Movie in the mind.” Until we have created that for the reader we aren’t there yet.

We have to design a plot where we “strap the reader into his car at the start of chapter one,” and send him on the equivalent of a breath-taking, non-stop carnival ride, to quote Sara Waters, a science fiction author. We have to create believable characters described in beautiful language. We have to set and then vary a pace of action so that we haul the reader through the twists and turns of our story.

Mastering any one of those writing skills takes study, effort, and a healthy number of  “butt in the chair” hours in front of our computers. It takes attendance at conferences, it takes webinars and reading, lots and lots of reading. It takes understanding that the work has to be for the reader, not for the writer’s ego.

We writers are descended from a profession as essential to humans as eating and breathing—we carry the blood of the ancient bards, the story tellers, the traveling minstrels in our veins. Down through time humans have always loved a good story. The important word in that sentence is “good.”

Publishing is so easy nowadays. The dragon has left the critical gate unattended and that means it’s up to the writer to police (edit) himself. Beware of sending your creation out into the center ring before you have whipped those wild writing creatures into tame purring kittens.

Your readers will thank you.

The image above, Lion Tamer, is a chromolithograph published c. 1873 by Gibson & Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. Chromolithography is a method for making multi-color prints and was the most successful of several methods developed in the 19th century. Copies of the picture can be obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C. 20540 USA. Reproduction number:  LC-DIG-pga-03749



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