I’m not referring to its general uselessness but its aid to aspiring authors.
It comes down to two questions: what do we need as writers and where do we fill that need?
When it comes to writing, aspirants like myself need much help, and there are many ways to categorize this help. I’ll start top-down.
First, we need to understand what story is. We all know inherently what constitutes story. When we read, hear, or view one, we are moved. We react. Story is part of our genetic makeup. We have been telling story as long as we have been communicating with each other with words. Four million years? Six thousand years? Apply your own understanding of human history, but story has always been there. We all know story, yet hardly anybody can define story without help. Very few people can tell story effectively. Even fewer can write good story. Modern story is told with ancient techniques, but we have refined our understanding of story so that it is now considered a complex field of study worthy of advanced educational degrees o– MA, MFA, PhD., and this refinement is hidden within the philosophies and tomes of our history. Everything we now understand about story has its roots in Aristotle’s Poetics. Story is opsis, melos, lexis, dianoia, ethos, and methos, otherwise known as spectacle, melody, diction, thought, character, and plot. These elements are arranged in order of importance with the most important — plot — at the end. Story falls apart without plot, but story can fly with weak spectacle. Great stories address all of these elements.
I wish it was as easy as remembering six concepts. It’s not. Drama is more than high-level story. Drama is created at scene, paragraph, sentence, and word levels. Each level of refinement brings its own dramatic challenges. Fail to write effective scenes, and your story becomes mush. Your paragraphs do not sing and pulse with rhythm, well, aloha reader. You fail at comparing and contrasting, figures of speech and other literary elements, foreshadowing, backstory, consistency, and connecting dots, your story falls apart. If you fail at grammar — and too many writers do — then you’ve lost your reader before you’ve started. Can you name thirteen sentence structures? Can you describe when to use each type of structure? Do you understand voice, and not just the point of view considerations? Does your writing come from one voice or does it transcend? Have you incorporated the chorus? Why or why not?
Most writers have little idea about what I just rambled on about within their own stories. Most writers I see in social media circles seem to simply write a book and throw it out there. Most of social media writing groups consist of writers looking for validation of some mysterious ability they possess and is clearly evident in their prose if you would only buy their $0.99 book.
Writers in social media circles do not discuss these fundamental elements of writing fiction, not regularly. These writers want ideas for world-building. These They want help in picking names for characters, advice on overcoming writer’s block, or story ideas. These writers want you to share in the fun they experience at the keyboard. These writers search in the dark for lost keys, in a hurricane, on a beach, naked and afraid.
I have given up on them. In a half-year of trying to gain knowledge from writing groups, I’ve abandoned them. I clicked “leave group” and turned off notifications.
So where am I going for help? I am re-discovering forums. Absolute Write has some very knowledgeable peeps. Other forums are also popping up. Forums are good at a few things social media groups fail at: they persist information and they categorize it. If there was a discussion of correct comma usage five years ago, it is still there for me to read. In social media, it is gone from my view within days at most.
One thing social media has helped with is spread the fiction writing bug. I believe that writing story is catching on again. I believe that people are discovering that a life without story is shallow, that a life full of story is compelling.
My main source of nuts and bolts help is in books and blogs. Whenever I find a used writing book, I snap it up. When I address a weakness in my writing and find that one book that fills the gap, I buy it. I have bought one new book in the past two years. I now have over fifty craft books.
Writing blogs are everywhere. If you cannot find them, you are not looking.
I get involved with real people. Hold on, I need to count my fingers … I belong to four (five under broader criteria) writing groups, three book clubs, and am a board member on a literary festival. I get people to review my writing and I offer to review other writers’ works. My team knows they can slam me hard and they do. And I grow with every word of feedback. I grow every time I read to a group. I grow with every book discussion. I grow with every book I read, every scene, paragraph, sentence, and word I read. I grow when I write.
I have never grown from any interaction with a social media writing group. They are now history with me.