Can I Be An Author? I’ve heard many people ask this question. They tell me that they have a story inside them that wants to get out. They ask what’s the best way for them to get it out.
Some people are serious about writing to the point where they want to make money doing it. Others want to treat the craft as a hobby, not wanting to commit to long hours of study. Still, others only want to put their thoughts in letters to leave for their loved ones.
People who want to write an essay, a memoir, a short story, or a novel, may ask the serious question: Can I be an author? The answer is that anytime you write anything, you become an author. The real question may be: do you want to be a professional?
If you’re looking to be a professional writer, you will need to pay the price to be trained in the craft. Be prepared to spend years studying it. Actually, it's a lifelong process.
Are you writing fiction? One logical step then is to read the writings of fiction authors. You can start with your favorite ones. Pay close attention to how they create characters, dialogue, setting, conflict, and plot. These points are integral to writing coherently.
Can I be an author? First, let's study some of the components of a story.
Characters: Characters must not all sound the same, just as none of your friends sound the same. Some talk fast, others slowly, and still others at an even pace. Some are the happy-go-lucky types, while others may be grumpy like one of Snow White’s dwarves.
Your characters need a backstory.
Jake comes from a dysfunctional family. His parents fought all the time, drank a lot, and neglected him. He often skipped school. Now, Jake spends a lot of time in the streets. As a result, he becomes street-smart.
Monica has a college degree and comes from a family with a lucrative import/export business. She drives a late-model sports car. Monica lives a life of privilege with her parents. She has a sweet temperament.
Jake and Monica meet by happenstance. They have a very interesting relationship, given their backgrounds. How would these characters relate to each other? What foreseeable problems would they likely have? Perhaps Monica’s parents would not approve of Jake.
You show your audience who your characters are by showing them the things your characters do, what they talk about, and how they react to stress.
Can I be an author? Let's continue learning the process in order to find out.
Dialogue: What would the conversation sound like between Jake and Monica? Jake will use more slang than Monica. His vocabulary will be more limited. He might even use foul language, although unintentionally.
On the other hand, Monica might have a substantial vocabulary. He may not know the meaning of many of the words she uses.
Would Jake feel inferior to her? If so, it would come out in dialogue, perhaps subtly. Does Monica like the bad boy type? How would she say that, even unintentionally, in keeping with her demure nature?
The dialogue must move the story forward. It should interestingly give new information.
Setting (milieu): The setting of your story acts like another character. You want your setting to show its personality, to set the mood.
Card tells us that “the milieu is the world surrounding the characters—the landscape, the interior spaces, the surrounding cultures the characters emerge from and react to; everything from weather to traffic laws” (48).
In what setting or milieu will you put your characters? Make it interesting and fit the story you’re trying to tell. Some settings are more important than others. Do your favorite authors make a big deal out of their settings?
Conflict: You will not have a viable story without conflict, which is any struggle between opposing forces. The main character struggles against himself, another person, or nature itself:
Conflict keeps readers glued to your story. Don’t let them off the hook.
Plot: A plot is a story you want to tell. Several components make up that story. If you follow these, your story will have some of the main ingredients you need:
From the list above, let's take an in-depth look at the components.
Monica drives her sports car along a road in the evening when someone from the shadows suddenly throws raw eggs at her windshield. Instinctively, she turns on her wipers, but this causes the eggs to smear across the windshield. Unable to see clearly, she steers her car into a tree. Jake, tattooed, scruffy, races to the car and yanks open the door. Monica is woozy; she rubs her forehead.
A middle-aged man hustles up behind Jake, and yells, “Don’t touch my daughter! I saw you egg her windshield!”
Rising action example
Monica doesn’t believe Jake threw eggs at her windshield, and she’s fallen for him. But her father, Andrew Wilson, becomes red-faced when he discovers the two are having an affair. He tells Jake that he called the police on him, as he believes Jake stole property from his pool house. Jake says he’s never been in the pool house. Police sirens and flashing lights descend on Mr. Wilson’s property.
Jake follows a shady character onto the Wilson property. This character muscles his way into the pool house. It’s the same guy who threw the eggs at Monica’s windshield. Monica’s father is in the pool house. The father and the shady guy argue. Jake peers through the window and sees the guy punch Mr. Wilson in the eye. Mr. Wilson splashes into the water, unmoving. The guy runs out through a far door. Jake hesitates only for a moment before jumping into the water to save Monica’s father. It’s extremely harrowing, but Jake manages to save Mr. Wilson’s life.
Falling action example
With Mr. Wilson recovering from pneumonia in the hospital, Jake captures the shady guy who turns out to be Mr. Wilson’s rival, and hands him over to the police.
Mr. Wilson is grateful beyond words that Jake saved his life, and that he caught the guy who was trying to ruin his life. The man was a once-trusted colleague who blamed his career failure, unjustly, on Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson now sees that Jake was willing to sacrifice his life in the water, trying to save his. He says he’d be honored to have Jake as a son-in-law. Monica never doubted Jake and gives him a big sloppy kiss.
If you write nonfiction—essays and memoirs, for instance—you’ll also need to read authors whose work you admire and those whom you know have made an impact in the literary world. This way you’ll have an idea where the bar is set.
When you read, take note of the tone and descriptions in the writing. Does the author’s personality shine through? Is she humorous? Are her word choices interesting? Perhaps you can do even better.
Stephen King’s book, On Writing, gives tips on how to become a better writer. His book also acts as his autobiography.
“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.”—Stephen King
Ask Stephen King this question: Can I be an author? I think he will give you a resounding yes! And so will I.