What are your favourite forms of writing? Fiction? Non-fiction? Poetry?
Do you ever think when you pick up a pen or put fingers to keyboard we are all following a tradition going back thousands of years? Or appreciate how important writing, in all its forms, is for cultural reasons? Or how dangerous writing can be?
My overall favourite form of writing is the short story. A “bite sized” read which is perfect for when reading time is limited. From a writing viewpoint, you can’t waste words (most short stories are between the 1500 to 2000 words mark as this fits standard writing competition rules).
Writing is one of the oldest forms of art we have.
Writing started with the need to keep records. The big problem with the oral storytelling tradition is that accuracy can be questionable. It’s so easy for Chinese Whispers to creep in and even if that doesn’t happen, there is always the risk stories and other records will be lost when those telling the stories/keeping the records die.
What’s the point of stories?
Humans are unique in that we invent art forms for our entertainment. Strictly speaking, there is no biological imperative making it crucial for us to write stories so why do it?
Sometimes it is to get messages across (Jesus’s parables are a good example of this). Sometimes it is to warn (fables are good for this given the vast majority make some moral point). Sometimes it is to entertain. Sometimes it is to comment on society (fairytales are great here – see The Little Match Girl and The Ugly Duckling just to name two examples, there are many more. The latter is one of my favourite tales and its message of beauty being within, it’s not always what you see on the surface, is as relevant as ever).
Fiction also adds to our culture, Shakespeare being the obvious example, but so does non-fiction.
History and its stories
I love British history. It is full of stories (a lot of which are bloody I admit) but they also shed light on where we came from as a nation and I believe the saying that “a nation that forgets its history is destined to re-live it” is true. Can’t say I’d fancy going through the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and English Civil War again!
I highly recommend Simon Schama’s History of Britain series. I loved watching it when on the BBC but the accompanying books are great and he has a real gift for narrative. I’m also fond of historical fiction and while I don’t write this myself, I can understand why an author would take a historical event and weave their own story around it.
I love novels for the depth they can give. You can follow characters in greater detail and have more complicated plots. Try fitting The Lord of the Rings into 2000 words!
You can build your own worlds and explore different aspects. This is one reason I adore Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. You have the police procedurals (Vimes), the magical world (the wizard and witches stories) and so on. And the final novel in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown, is touching in the way it signs off the entire series.
And then there is that great new form of writing – the blog! Originally known as a weblog to reflect its medium, it was quickly reduced to blog.
I read many writers’ blogs to find out news from within the industry, keep up to date with works they’re producing, discover hints and tips to help me improve my work and, within my websites, I write my own. One reflects specifically on my fantasy fiction world, the other is on writing (its joys and frustrations, things I’ve learned along the way and so on).
Most writers have a blog. Not only is blogging a great way of reflecting your thoughts (in that it follows the tradition of keeping a journal), it also helps you engage with readers. Being able to comment and respond to comments makes writing more of a two way process between writer and reader. (All writing has this process but with blogging I think it is more obvious because of the ease of publishing a blog and the ability to respond quickly to readers’ comments).
Blogging also makes it possible for authors to build up an audience. This not only helps traditionally published writers but is crucial for those who decide to self publish. You have to get word of what you’re doing out there and this is a great way of doing this.
I took to Twitter fairly recently and the great thing about tweeting is is forces you to be concise! Like the other great invention, email, I find I response to tweets quickly because they don’t take up much of my time. Neither can I spend that long composing a reply. As an exercise in writing to the point, Twitter is hard to beat.
— Allison Symes (@AllisonSymes1) January 25, 2016
Great writers in the area
Our local area has produced its fair share of great writers.
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, and Jane Austen lived in Southampton and Winchester and is buried at the Cathedral. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was resident on the Isle of Wight and P.G. Wodehouse used relatively local names to create his characters (the most famous example being Lord Emsworth, literally named after the place).
And then there is poetry, a wonderful art form and I greatly admire those who can write this well.
A well crafted poem can express feelings in the fewest words. The best will live on long after their authors and I’m particularly thinking of the war poets here. In Flanders Fields is haunting (as it should be).
Poems can stir up memories and create instant images in the head.
‘They will not grow old, as we grow old’ brings home the tragedy of war in one line. Good writing will make a huge and lasting impact.
And I’m glad poetry is recognised as a distinct art form. It is meant to be different from prose.
And in a sad world, fiction can be a way of escape, can provide a good laugh (Wodehouse, Austen, Pratchett hit the button here as far as I’m concerned), can help you explore other cultures (reading their history and/or their cookery books are two ways of doing this).
Writing can be very bad for your health…
I also don’t think it a coincidence that totalitarian regimes ban books or severely restrict those that are permitted to be read. Why? Writers sell ideas. And ideas can be dangerous. Writers can reach out to others via their work and promote understanding (or in the case of Mein Kampf be one of the means of future horrors for literally millions of people).
One of the saddest things I remember from my childhood was watching the Blue Peter campaign to raise funds and awareness of the horrors of the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
It is probably the first really serious news item that caught my attention and the thing that has always stayed in my memory was the revelation that anyone wearing glasses was automatically killed by the Khmer Rouge as it was evidence that person could read.
We have many problems in this country, and frankly always will, but we have our blessings. And being able to read and write freely is a major one so easily taken for granted.
I admire good journalists. I don’t care much for the tabloids and loathe celebrity gossip. Journalism for me is about news. And while there are many things written I disagree with, I don’t feel any writer should be threatened for expressing their opinion in print. To me that is something which should have been left behind centuries ago.
I don’t like lazy writing either. I like thoughtful articles which seek to understand both points of view (there always are at least two in any news item!) and where criticism is justified, that criticism is valid, well expressed, isn’t abusive, doesn’t tar everyone of a certain ilk with the same brush and so on.
On those grounds, I’ve always admired George Orwell. Anyone who can seriously annoy the extreme left and right has my undying admiration!
Writing can expand the language – Orwell has done this with Big Brother, Room 101 etc.
Shakespeare is known to have added many words to the English language, including “fortnight”.
And Charles Dickens with A Christmas Carol has added to this country’s Christmas traditions. I can’t think of any year where there isn’t a version of this story being shown. So writing is powerful then.
So how do we best appreciate writing? By supporting it in all its forms. By reading widely regardless of what format we use. By supporting the libraries as well as the booksellers. By supporting those who try to help writers in trouble with totalitarian governments (English PEN, Amnesty etc). We have not always been able to publish freely. Look at what happened to Tyndale for publishing the Bible in English.
By ensuring we pass on the tradition of writing and not allowing it to be weakened or destroyed. And for those with a creative streak to write our own stories, articles, poems or whatever fits that creative streak best (and to have fun doing so!).
So what is your favourite form of writing and why? What news item from the past had the most impact on you?
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 12th February 2016.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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