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ironchef texmex
March 30th, 2004, 09:14 PM
Okay people, I'm bored. I'm not writing anything at the moment and the research I'm doing for my next novel is killing me. Right now I'd do just about anything to avoid picking up another book on quantum physics. I need a diversion.

So here goes. My question is a basic one; a few years ago Stephen King wrote a little article entitled "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully in Ten Minutes"

The basic jist went something like this - 1) Be talented. 2) Write something. 3) Research the market. 4) Send that something off for publication.

No comment yet on whether the driver of the car that nearly ran Stevo over a few years ago had just read this article or not.

SO WHAT IS IT?

What is talent as pertaining to the literary world? How do you know if you have it? What are the signs, for or against?

Is it like music where a prodigy is revealed early in life? If it isn't, why not? Feel free to wax philosophical or just make a observation from your own experience. No matter what, it'll still be more interesting to read than quantum physics.

juzzza
March 31st, 2004, 03:27 AM
Ah, KATG will love this one LOL.

I think you may get a few posts that state, you can't define it. And this is going to be the first one I guess.

A lot of it comes down to taste, there are writers, musicians and artists out there and I have absolutely no idea why they are allowed to release the pants that they release and yet they have thousands of admiring fans, so who am I to say if they are talented or not?

I think with writing that 'talent' is more to do with imagination and creativity or the ability to come up with the ideas. Of course it helps to be able to string a sentence together but you don't have to have a Masters in English.

Same with music, about 90% of performing artists out there can't read a sheet of music, they play by ear and of course they know basic music theory (keys and chord shapes/construction) but they are not the same as a child virtuoso who can hear a piece and play it back perfectly and play complex music straight off the sheet of paper where it is written.

And yet, no one could say the likes of the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and so on are NOT talented, of course they are.

It's funny but I have rarely heard a writer described as 'talented' now you come to mention it, I have read and heard that writers are 'good' or have incredible imagination and so on, but I can't recall the blurb on a book that talks about talent.

Lucky Joe
March 31st, 2004, 06:05 AM
I'm thinking talent is a lot like inspiration when it comes to success. Remember that old formula?

Success = 5% inspiration + 95% hardwork and dedication.

Of course I think there is a bit more to it than that, but without the hardwork I don't think talent alone will get you very far in anything you do.

Oh and by the way I'm incredibly talented but very lazy, so I guess I'm stuffed.:D

kahnovitch
March 31st, 2004, 07:41 AM
Hard to quantify talent by the very nature of it, kind of like beauty i.e it's in the "eye of the beholder".

One look around these boards will show you the mixed emotions people have about everything. We have Tolkien worshippers, Jordan worshippers, Martin etc. (I personally think REH is the true god of fantasy but nevermind);)

There are a lot of facets to writing too, as mentiioned in many threads recently. So you have decide which facet of writing is most important to you as a reader. Pure imagination, world building, character development. plot intrigue etc.
For me the most important factor is how the story is told, they style and pace of the writing. Being an REH fan I loved the short action style of the Conan stories and I'll admit I've never actually finished reading LotR past Helms Deep. :o
Someone that makes me want to carry on reading. Someone who grabs my attention and keeps it. That is talent to me as my attention span wanes very quickly these.....

ironchef texmex
March 31st, 2004, 08:28 AM
Originally posted by kahnovitch
Hard to quantify talent by the very nature of it, kind of like beauty i.e it's in the "eye of the beholder".



I was waiting for somebody to say this. And no Kahn, I'm not trying to jump on you or anybody else. I just want to pose a question: What if beauty isn't in the eye of the beholder? I'm not saying it isn't. I'm just asking in the hypothetical.

Take physical beauty, for example. Show a picture of somebody like Tyra Banks to anybody, anywhere in the world. Then show them a picture of someone who you think is far less attractive. Virtually everyone will agree that the supermodel is the more physically attractive person. The reason according to physologists - humans are genetically predisposed to find certain traits as more pleasing. Show the same two pictures to a group of babies and you'll get a nursery room full of Tyra Banks fans. I don't want to write a thesis on this thread, so I'll condense the point a little. Some traits are universal (high cheek bones/ unblemished skin) whereas others are not (overall body mass/ lip thickness).

I think we have a tendancy to dismiss the idea of universals in writing. "What could possibly be predisposed about reading one book and finding it more pleasing than another". Yet all reading is handled in the human brain in a preset area (Called the Wernicke lobe) in a preset fashion (At least until Wernicke gets done translating the nonpictoral symbols for us).

The relativists have a point - different people DO in fact have different tastes. But I still haven't heard anyone at this site try and content that everyone piece of writing is equally valid. Does anyone really believe that there's no real difference between the stories that get rated 5 and the stories that get rated 1?

If there is, explain why and I'll stop trying to improve my writing; since, of course, there will be no measure by which I could argue improvement. If there's not, and virtually all of us (I think) can agree some writing is better than others, then we're back to the central question. How much of writing is inate, and how much is a skill set than can be learned and mastered over time?

P.S. I really hope we don't go too far down the relativist/absolutist rabbit hole on this one. I'd love to hear from anyone who saw some marked improvement in response to their writing (either by getting published or from feedback from a reader). Can you put a finger on any particular thing that made the difference?

kahnovitch
March 31st, 2004, 09:36 AM
Originally posted by ironchef texmex
How much of writing is inate, and how much is a skill set than can be learned and mastered over time?

Writing is definitely a skill that can be improved over time, but I think that has more to do with the ability to write a piece than flows well, and varies the sentence structure to make the story more digestable to the mind and eye.
Then there is always the question of how much to write, the level of description necessary, the writing "style" if you like. How a writer makes his mark as an individual.

For me the most important element is imagination and creative spark i.e. show me something I didn't think about; open my mind.
Not necessarily "teach me" but give me something to think about and take me by surprise. The way the story is delivered can be improved. The "art" of story telling, but a good story is essential from the start. Combine these two and maybe that's what "talent" is.

KatG
March 31st, 2004, 10:40 AM
Ah, KATG will love this one LOL.
Look, I'm not slavering! Okay, only a little.

What we tend to call talent might be better termed as instinct. Some people have good instincts, conscious or unconscious, about how to put together a fictional narrative. They have an instinctual understanding of how to use the tools of fiction writing. It gives them a jump on the rest who have to train our brains to do the same thing and who are slower to be able to translate what's in our heads down into a workable story on the page. So when you hear about the 18-year-old who gets a book deal, there's a lot of yammering about how he must "know somebody" and such, but more likely, the 18-year-old instinctually knows how to put together the story he wants to tell. And has the free time to actually write it, and then impressed someone in the business with it. And it's annoying, but it's hardly the kiss of doom. Just because someone can master a skill quicker than you can, doesn't mean that you can't master it in your own time. It doesn't mean that you can, either, but it's not a club that only certain wunderkinds can join.


Originally posted by ironchef texmex

I think we have a tendancy to dismiss the idea of universals in writing.
Unfortunately, no we don't. Everybody obsesses about the universals in writing, hoping that if they can identify them, they'll have the magic key to being published. It's like a big treasure hunt with no treasure, though lots of folk claim they've found the treasure of course.


If there is, explain why and I'll stop trying to improve my writing; since, of course, there will be no measure by which I could argue improvement. [/B]
It isn't school. You don't seek to improve, improve, master the same principles that everyone else is trying to master, and then if you manage that and pass standardized tests, the teacher gives you an "A." You can seek to improve your writing so that you can tell the stories that you want to tell, the way you want to tell them. Because understanding the tools of writing and how you can use them, and developing your skills at using them, gives you power, freedom, expression and hopefully, an audience. Rather than trying to beat out others for the best G.P.A., you try to be the writer you want to be, as good as you feel you can get.

Your value as a writer gets judged by others. But that value is assessed differently by different people and can change over time. Stephen King was commonly considered a commercial cola writer, taking over the bestseller lists like a barbarian horde. The people who bought his books thought they were good. Now his works are studied in universities as literature. And many people, including some publishing people, think he's a hack. Who's right? It's a relativist argument, but it's also reality. Even if you become the most critically acclaimed, mega-sales successful author ever, there are still going to be millions of people who think your writing is horrible and millions more who will never have heard of you.


How much of writing is inate, and how much is a skill set than can be learned and mastered over time?
Hard to say, but I can tell you in my experience, from having worked with a couple thousand authors, that it apparently varies from person to person. Some have great instincts all the way around and pick up new skills quickly. Some have really great instincts at language or plotting but more trouble with other aspects. Some have to really work to comprehend how they can use writing tools and develop a clear idea of what story they want to tell, but they get to the publishing contract anyway.


P.S. I really hope we don't go too far down the relativist/absolutist rabbit hole on this one. I'd love to hear from anyone who saw some marked improvement in response to their writing (either by getting published or from feedback from a reader). Can you put a finger on any particular thing that made the difference?
I'm going to back off from this one because I think the above is a good idea. While some people may talk about how they found "the formula," hopefully others will talk about how they developed their skills and figured out new ways to use writing tools. Just don't spend too much time looking for the Precious. :)

choppy
March 31st, 2004, 12:39 PM
To further complicate matters I would add that I think there's a big difference between being a "talented" writer and being a "good" writer.

The only way I can explain the difference is with two words: Mariah Carey. (I apologise to any fans.) Here is a person who is very talented at what she does. She has the ability to hit all the right notes, sing with passion and connect with her fans. And yet, I can't stand a single piece of her music.

In my opinion talent - as a writer - has to do with the ability to communicate a certain idea through prose. The writing doesn't have to be colourful, and it doesn't have to be grammatically correct. It has to get the idea to the reader effectively. But not only that, it has to establish a personal connection with the people who will respond to the idea. In a way, it's kind of a "spooky action at a distance." (Sorry ironchef texmex, I couldn't resist.)

ironchef texmex
March 31st, 2004, 06:53 PM
Originally posted by choppy
In my opinion talent - as a writer - has to do with the ability to communicate a certain idea through prose. The writing doesn't have to be colourful, and it doesn't have to be grammatically correct. It has to get the idea to the reader effectively. But not only that, it has to establish a personal connection with the people who will respond to the idea. In a way, it's kind of a "spooky action at a distance." (Sorry ironchef texmex, I couldn't resist.)

No need to apologize. Actually, I think that's about the best description I've heard for why so many of us want to be published, but none of us seem to be willing to "sell out" to do it. We have a feeling, a sense of... something that resonates inside of us. We want to put it down on paper in a way that will resonate inside of others as well. We want them to feel what we feel.

So maybe that's what true literary talent is - a natural aptitude for bridging the gap.

And no, Kat, it's not like school. Not grade school anyway. Maybe more like a martial arts school. Ability and training both play a part. You can get better over time, but the improvement can be hard to recognize in any empirical way. And students of nearly equal quality can be hard to rate. Although, certainly if you see a master working next to a novice you could probably tell which was which.

The interesting thing is, I think we all agree so far that the natural aptitude can be learned, or maybe mimicked. So what are some ways (other than the usual 'write every day') that we can take our writing to the next level. For example: I think it was Holbrook who mentioned his sword training. Hol, if you read this, I'm curious; how did it help? Were you just more confident in writing your action sequences? Did it give you any plot ideas?

Pluvious
March 31st, 2004, 06:54 PM
Originally posted by ironchef texmex


I was waiting for somebody to say this. And no Kahn, I'm not trying to jump on you or anybody else. I just want to pose a question: What if beauty isn't in the eye of the beholder? I'm not saying it isn't. I'm just asking in the hypothetical.

Take physical beauty, for example. Show a picture of somebody like Tyra Banks to anybody, anywhere in the world. Then show them a picture of someone who you think is far less attractive. Virtually everyone will agree that the supermodel is the more physically attractive person. The reason according to physologists - humans are genetically predisposed to find certain traits as more pleasing. Show the same two pictures to a group of babies and you'll get a nursery room full of Tyra Banks fans. I don't want to write a thesis on this thread, so I'll condense the point a little. Some traits are universal (high cheek bones/ unblemished skin) whereas others are not (overall body mass/ lip thickness).

I think we have a tendancy to dismiss the idea of universals in writing. "What could possibly be predisposed about reading one book and finding it more pleasing than another". Yet all reading is handled in the human brain in a preset area (Called the Wernicke lobe) in a preset fashion (At least until Wernicke gets done translating the nonpictoral symbols for us).

The relativists have a point - different people DO in fact have different tastes. But I still haven't heard anyone at this site try and content that everyone piece of writing is equally valid. Does anyone really believe that there's no real difference between the stories that get rated 5 and the stories that get rated 1?

If there is, explain why and I'll stop trying to improve my writing; since, of course, there will be no measure by which I could argue improvement. If there's not, and virtually all of us (I think) can agree some writing is better than others, then we're back to the central question. How much of writing is inate, and how much is a skill set than can be learned and mastered over time?

P.S. I really hope we don't go too far down the relativist/absolutist rabbit hole on this one. I'd love to hear from anyone who saw some marked improvement in response to their writing (either by getting published or from feedback from a reader). Can you put a finger on any particular thing that made the difference?

You sure about the Tyra Banks and babies comment? I don't have any studies to support my general theory, but I bet people don't have any real concept of beauty until they are taught. Certain sounds I'm sure affect children in a positive or negative way, as do smells and touches, and of course irritating or gentle images. But I'm willing to be a child/baby wouldn't be scared/respulsed by a "hideous" monster unless the child first had a "knowledge" of what hideous was.

But I think we do have a general sense (inherit) of surival and the child might be afraid of something that is menacing but I tend to think beauty is learned. From what little I know about the brain any "concept" that doesn't immediately to survival (eating, sleeping, taking in input, etc) must first be learned. But you could be right (I just think many cultures have "learned" to admire unblemished skin and high cheek bones...not impossible).

Sorry for the "off-topic".

I would say that talent (in terms of writing) is someone who has an inate mental ability to produce some type of written work. This could be in the form of organizational skill, an ability to relate things quickly/well together, an understanding of people/things, or whatever. There may be people who are naturally talented in many aspects of what it takes to write something well, but more likely it would be a talent in something more specific (and you could define this if you looked hard enough).

Anyway, any talent is learned. You have to develop it. You may be very efficiently in the inner workings of your brain, but without the necessary stimulation you won't just "be a writer". You at least have to know what a story is...or you're starting from scratch.