Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Write Way: Wisdom and Wit

(For the Introduction to this post, check here.)

There's only one real reason to write. Popular theory is that writing exists so that imaginative introverts can become famous millionaires, and this is false (though it does sometimes occur, mostly by accident). The slightly more subconscious thinking is that writing is for getting your thoughts out, and this is much closer to the truth. In plain, then: the written word is for people who have something to say.

(Of course, it's very possible to produce "writing" without actually saying anything. Legal documents, term papers, and the entire Twilight anti-saga are prime examples: a high word count does not good writing make.)

Rather, the most central piece of any writing--from short stories to devotionals to novels--is what the author says, what he means. And the only way that a writer can have something to say is through Wisdom.

So What is It?
Loosely defined, "Wisdom" is the term I use for how writers know things (I speak not of the abstractions rampant in the book of Proverbs). Sometimes it is innate; more often, it is learned. Over time, wise people know a little about everything and everything about subjects they really like. Overall, it grants a sense of what's real and what's true--Wisdom lets you spot falsehood or flaw.

Why Does It Matter in Writing?
When it's applied to writing, Wisdom manifests in solid characters, plots, and subtext. Further, Wise writers know enough about everything to give their writing realistic depth. Without it, they create worlds that don't ring true; they build stories that fall apart in the face of physics and common sense.

The Ideal
A writer with Wisdom in the extreme, I think, can sense flawed characterization at fifty paces, sight a plot flaw inside of a minute, and know innately when any element of a story is misbehaving. It's like they smell it (I suspect the odor is distinctly reminiscent of slightly overdone cookies).

I will make no secret that Wit is my favorite writer's characteristic.

So What Is It?
Wit is the writer's ability to drop a one-two punch. Wit is when a writer crafts a sentence, or a thought, or a storyline so that wherever it's read, people feel it in their gut. Whether a joke or a heartbreak, anything crafted by a Witty writer accomplishes its purpose.

Colloquially speaking, if Wisdom is knowing what to say, Wit is knowing how to say it.

Why Does It Matter in Writing?
All writing is like a joke, or a magic trick. First comes the setup, where you teach the audience what to look for--what to expect. Afterwards comes the punchline, or the reveal, or the "prestige," or what-have-you. Without Wit, everything a writer produces becomes poorly-told; good thoughts will be lost in a marsh of verbosity.

The Ideal
The Wittiest writers can crush all the power of their thoughts into just a few words. They draw their readers along for paragraphs--pages, perhaps--drawing them in, seducing them with their words, until, finally, all of the momentum, all of the energy, has reached its breaking point. Then, like a cannon, like a shotgun blast, they end it....


1 comment:

  1. Good stuff! Wit's my favorite too, though I sometimes feel I haven't completely mastered it yet.