The Importance of being Earnest
When Oscar Wilde wrote a play with this title, his tongue was firmly in his cheek. When I place it at the top of a blog post for writers, I’m dead serious. Even when writing fiction, the writer needs to be as honest and up-front as possible. It can be literary suicide to fake anything, even when making up stories.
So how, you do ask, is an author to compose and create, if nothing is to be fake? Ah! The difference between a wonderful story and a flimsily fabricated piece that does not come straight from an author’s heart, and the centre of the mind, is very easily detected by readers. They can tell fakery at a distance of twenty paces. An author cannot successfully ‘fake’ anything: atmosphere, philosophy, premise, plot and story – not to mention characters – must all be authentically created from the heart, and researched and understood with the head.
Cutting corners, fakery, conceit and phony devices are almost as serious a mistake as plagiarism. If you have been writing for some time, you must know what I mean. If you write about locations, try to make them places with which you have some familiarity. I do mean a personal visit, or at least deep research that makes you conversant with the sights, smells and sensations of a location. If you create a character, make sure you get the person right, down to beverage choices, body language, speech patterns and physical things like eye colour and clothing style. If you use references, get them right – there is nothing worse than using the wrong quotes, mentioning the mistaken composer of a piece of music, or the wrong painter of a picture. A knowledgeable reader will put the book down and think everything else you write is as faulty as the mistake they find. If you use food, drink, the language, traditions or customs of a specific population … all these need earnest research and must be absolutely accurate.
Then there’s the heart of the matter: it is vital to demonstrate honesty in thought and to write confidently about emotions, premises, principles, subjects and themes you understand well. Each book, whether it is a novel, a piece of narrative non-fiction, a scientific or academic work, or even a how-to manual, must contain only material you know, either through valid experience or extensive research. It will never work if you try to fake either of these two fundamental things that lie at the heart of all good writing.
The joy of being a writer lies in discovery of fresh themes and subjects to research. Real pleasure is to be found in newly-discovered material and writing about it, getting to know it, and conveying it to an audience of appreciative readers. One can only do this successfully if one is diligent, if one loves this notion of discovery, and if one is earnest. Like Oscar Wilde, we can certainly push our tongues into our cheeks, but we must do it authentically, so that it is clear what we are doing.
Rosanne Dingli is the Western Australian author of four novels, several collections of stories, and a poetry book. She has published stories, reviews, columns, articles, and features successfully since 1985. More information is to be found at http://www.rosannedingli.com and http://rosannedingli.blogspot.com
Ms. Dingli’s novels include:
Death in Malta
According to Luke
Counting Churches – The Malta Stories