What Does a Writer Do?

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

A pedantic question: of course the answer is that 'writers do many things'. They inspire,

castigate, reveal, enthrall, entertain. Most importantly however, they get to the point. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” Shakespeare says. This is a polite way of saying “don't waste my time”. If you are a professional writer, whether your media of choice is the novel, books, poetry, screenplays or the stage, you are writing for an audience. Your relationship to your audience is beside the point. You may love, hate, fear, or desperately need them, but the fact remains that the audience has given to you, in the least, the most precious gift that anyone can bestow upon another: time. Time that could be spent with their children, time they could be cultivating their own works, or making love, or simply time to themselves; and by thunder, the audience expects to be compensated for the cost of admission! This is where so many, of what might otherwise be superb works, fail. They don't get to it. Too

much buildup, finessing, and static exposition, so that by the time something actually happens, the audience has completely forgotten why they are even there, assuming they still are there. It's important to note that this has almost nothing to do with how long your work actually is. Whether your piece is a twenty second commercial, or a 1,000 page epic novel, the prerequisite is the same: the audience needs to know, right quick, what the character relationships are, who wants what, and what's at stake if they don't get it. Everything else builds out from there, and is shaped by the rules of the world wherein the characters operate, and the conflicts which naturally arise from their desires. The scope of these desires

determines how long your piece needs to be, not is, which can be bloated and drawn out for any number of reasons, usually bad ones, but how long it needs to be. Two examples:

1) The cartoon rabbit desperately wants to eat some cereal right now, the kids have cereal and they intend to eat it themselves, the rabbit tries to steal the cereal but is thwarted by the kids. The end. Very cut and dry. The kids don't enter into negotiations with the rabbit about whether or not they might be willing to part with a portion of their cereal in exchange for some service or other. The rabbit does not file a lawsuit against the kids, suing them for damages, nor does he undertake the task of getting a job in order to be able to buy his own cereal. White hats, black hats, done.

2) The Prince of Denmark has returned home where his father has been killed, his mother has

married the uncle, and the uncle has seated himself (seemingly without objection) on the throne which should belong to the Prince, who is a mature man. Something is very wrong, and the Prince is going to figure out what it is, no matter the cost to himself, or to others.

The beautiful thing about Hamlet is that it has many layers which can be interpreted depending on how you frame them. Maybe he's crazy, but maybe not, and his prime adversaries are all people that he has known and (mostly) loved his entire life. Regardless of the variables, it's about to get very messy, and will take some time to unravel completely. About four hours, in fact. Ironically, one of the primary critiques of Hamlet is his inability to get to it already, but I think that twe might excuse the Prince for not simply outright murdering his entire family with no questions asked, and besides, there

would be no play. Human beings, as far as we know, are the only species that tell stories. Our entire existence is wrapped up in the story of us. We are in love with them. To be a storyteller is a very noble and demanding trade, asking much of both the teller and the audience, and this exchange should be respected. Writers of all stripes tell stories, but each story takes a given amount of time to tell, and is served best when it starts off strong, and establishes characters, desires, and stakes quickly; only then can we get about the business of actually telling the story, which is what everyone is in it for.


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