Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Authorial Acrobatics

"It's Niagara Falls. It's one of the most beautiful 
natural wonders in the world. Who wouldn't want to 
walk across it?" -- Nik Wallenda

The World English Dictionary defines "acrobat" as "an entertainer who performs acts that require skill, agility, and coordination, such as tumbling, swinging from a trapeze, or walking a tightrope." This definition could also apply to a writer.

No matter what we write--non-fiction, children's books, literary fiction, or whatever--our primary purpose is to entertain. OK, maybe we want to enlighten, instruct, shock, or create abstract art, but whatever we want to do with out writing, it will go nowhere if readers don't find it at least somewhat entertaining. There are a lot of books out t here, and people will go back to the authors they have enjoyed in the past.

"I hope what I do and what I just did inspires people 
around the world to reach for the skies." -- Nik Wallenda

In order to entertain, we perform. We create and construct. We put ourselves in front of an audience and risk failure and ridicule in the hopes of succeeding.

Successful writers require a number of skills. We must have grammar and story-telling skills. We must be able to say old things in new ways. We must learn and practice the arts of writing, including understanding how to structure a story, how to write dialogue, how to make non-existent people live. Many, maybe most, of the basic skills of a writer can be learned, but they must be practiced and be combined with a difficult-to-define something that puts them above others who have solid writing skills but can't write a story.

"The impossible is not quite impossible 
if you put your mind to it." -- Nik Wallenda

A writer must be flexible. A writer must be able to turn on a dime, to perform sleight-of-hand tricks, to create and control puppets while the puppeteer remains unseen. Agility applies both to the flexibility required to create characters and their stories, and to scheduling writing time around a busy life.

Most people who attempt to write fall flat on their faces. Even the successful authors. But the successful writer learns through practice how to keep from falling, even when flirting with the disaster that is present in nearly every first draft.

"I've trained all my life not to be distracted 
by distractions."--Nik Wallenda

We fall. We get up. We make our characters fall and get up. We perform amazing and dangerous stunts, jumps, and twists. We are under a constant danger of stepping out of bounds or landing on our heads. Every step of the writing life is flirting with danger and risking failure. But we learn to "fall with style" so our tumbles become intentional and our rebounds are artful.

Swinging from a trapeze
Every jump we make in our stories risks failure, and failure can be disastrous. We swing in the air, grasping our thoughts and ideas, letting go to grasp at the next one. Will we catch it? We won't ever find out without letting go of the comfortable hold we have on where we are.

"Every walk that I do, there's obstacles in the way. There's always 
somebody or something that comes across negative, 
but I live for that sort of thing." -- Nik Wallenda

Walking a tightrope
The balance required to successfully complete a story often seems impossible. When we're out beyond the imagined safety of our beginning and our end, treading carefully on a narrow line that constantly threatens to swing out from under us, it often seems like we'll never reach our destination safely. Most people who start a book never finish. They either fall or they give up and sit down somewhere in the middle, holding on to the dream but failing to move forward. Those who succeed take one step at a time, blending caution with the requirement to teeter constantly on the edge of disaster. It seems like every force in the universe has combined to knock us off the tightrope.

And so...
And so, if we have to be acrobats, why not make the best of it? How much fun is it to watch an acrobat who does his or tricks above the safe cushion? Sure, it can be fun and you can still be amazed by the perfmorer's talents. But, as an author, if you want to gain an audience and make them share in your nervousness, to make your readers hold their breaths from beginning to end, you have to write without a net. You have to transcend the comfort of the ground and put everything on the line. You have to risk spectacular failure. Make your reader afraid. Make them wonder how you can possibly get out of danger and safely reach the end without toppling into the abyss of failure. What's more, every time you succeed, you need to increase the risk for your next stunt. If you're comfortable, you'll fail. Danger heightens awareness and attention, and makes you respect the tightrope, causes you to keep working, to take each dangerous step, and to put on a brilliant show.
"I'm one of those people who always tries 
to overachieve. I want to do more. 
I want to do bigger things." -- Nik Wallenda

And that's what you want to do. You want to entertain brilliantly, which means hazarding spectacular peril. So discard the net. Go higher. Go farther. Risk it all. It's scary, but the success will be worth it when you look back and see what you overcame to achieve your tale. 

1 comment:

Julie Daines said...

This was awesome!! Thanks.