When it comes to creative writing any theory is, to say the least, tricky. In fact, as soon as someone comes up with a definition, whatever that may be, we can be sure that a writer is bound to come along and write a story that proves that theory wrong.
From story to plot
However, this doesn’t mean we cannot draw any interesting conclusions about creative writing. For example, paraphrasing E.M. Forster, while a story is a narrative of events exclusively arranged in their time-sequence, a plot is also a narrative of events, but one in which the emphasis is falling on causality instead.
The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then the queen died of grief is a plot. The time sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.
This might seem a subtle distinction, yet it is essential to storytelling.
In a certain way, it’s like looking at the picture below on the left. We can present it, without any comment or explication. Or we can present it with different titles. For example: A new day, The dying of the light, Contrasts, and so on.
As a matter of fact, each title gives readers a different frame of reference and so, to a certain extent, can steer their reactions. It can lead them to think about why the writer has chosen certain words and not others — and this even without having to recur to any external time sequence.
Writing can also be likened to the building of a house. I mean, if we want to, we can choose to use only one material. But irrespective of how many materials we use, we should be able to choose from a vast array of them. After all, while stone can be great for a castle, if w’re planning to build a stilt house we’d probably better explore other options.
Words should be treated with the same care. We should amass a quantity as large as possible of them in our heads, but then we should choose with great care the ones we really want to put down on paper. This doesn’t mean that elaborate words should be avoided at all cost, or that short and simple words should always be used profusely. Rather, this means we should ban any stereotypical approach to our writing and approach it with a healthy dose of pragmatism.
For example, words like kids, offspring, and children share the same meaning, but have each a different connotation. However, this doesn’t mean we cannot use them in new ways. In fact, a writing that never pushes at the seams of language runs constantly the risk of coming across as flat and uninspiring as an infomercial.
In short, it’s not that we cannot make an elderly and dignified woman utter a word like kiddo. It’s that in order to make that happen we have to create the right context.
It’s hard work, for sure. And given that a writers’ skillfulness isn’t only related to the size of their vocabulary, one might decide this isn’t an essential aspect of effective creative writing.
But it is. In fact, having a large vocabulary, among many other skills, allows writers a greater degree of detail, of accuracy. In this way their stories are shaped by their minds’ potential and not by their minds’ limits.
After all, as Stephen King says, We’ve all heard someone say, ‘Man, it was so great (or so horrible/strange/funny) … I just can’t describe it!’ If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a such a way to make your readers nod with recognition.