Saturday, July 21, 2012

Creative Writing; An Attempt to Satisfy Personal Curiosity by Bronson L. "Bo" Parker

As to biographical information, i. e., who I am; well I'm still trying to figure that one out. For more than half a century, I've hidden behind words, first as a news and sports reporter with a BS in Journalism from UT-Knoxville, my hometown.

Following that career, a quarter century was spent writing historical non-fiction. So, it was with a lot of naiveté and way too much self confidence that I decided some five years ago to write a novel, a mystery. I managed to get a well-known mystery writer with some forty books published to review my first manuscript. He sent me an eleven-page, single spaced letter. The first page and a half told me what I had done correctly. The other nine and a half pages listed the things I needed to learn. I am still learning.

Bronson L. Parker

An insatiable curiosity has plagued me since early childhood. Much to “Santa’s” chagrin, interest was soon lost in merely winding up his gift of a toy train and watch it roll around an oval track. Taking apart the locomotive proved to be more fun. The innards of wind-up alarm clocks also became a favorite target. How’d they work?

This curiosity never waned. But people rather than mechanical things became the focus later in life when joining the working world as a news reporter, a craft governed by the five Ws of Journalism 101: who, what, where, when, and why. It was an easy life. Go out, get the facts, write the story, and move on. There were times, however, when the five Ws of a story satisfied the city editor, but not my curiosity.

A typical story of the day might be: A local businessman, traveling alone near midnight on a winding country road south of the city, was fatally injured when his car left the road and smashed into a tree.  There was no evidence of another vehicle involved, or that the man was intoxicated. The county sheriff’s deputies who handled the accident concluded it was simply a matter of driving too fast on a narrow road and losing control.

The news story would cover the five Ws. But such an incident was only one moment in a man’s life. What was the rest of his story? What was going on in his life that led him to be in that part of the county, over thirty miles away from both his home and business, at that time of night, and driving so fast? In the harried cycle of daily publication, those type stories disappeared into the realm of yesterday’s news, but they served to heighten my curiosity. “Why’d he do that?”

My curiosity stayed with me during the years after leaving the newspaper business, a time devoted to writing historical non-fiction.  This exercise was a more relaxed, slower process that allowed digging longer and deeper. Documentation could be found that included the location of every piece of field artillery used in a specific Civil War battle. However, in most cases, no amount of research unearthed an explanation for what motivated the men involved to made the decisions that led to the battle, or why they did what they did during it.  “Why’d they do that?”

After giving in to the persistent urging of family and friends to try my hand at creative writing, the first step back into that realm since college, the question became: how does one go about writing a novel?
Personal mentoring was combined with reading a lot of “how-to” books.  Several contained the phrases, “Write what you like,” and “Write what you know.”

Reading has never been considered a sprint race. A wham, bam, thank you, ma’am story without any explanation for the wham or the bam is not that satisfying. Those that made the biggest impression, the ones remembered, were those that told the entire story. They sated my curiosity within the context of the story. They did not make me stop and ask the question, “Why’d he or she do that?”

What was known is that each individual existence is the sum of all that has been experienced, a list of things so numerous and varied it defies enumeration. In the aggregate, these experiences define each person as distinctly as do fingerprints. Some part of that experience becomes the why, the reason a person says or does something at a given moment in their lives.

After seventy plus years of traveling along life’s road, a wealth of first-hand experience existed that spanned the spectrum from moments of happiness, joy, and contentment to encounters with unseen potholes; some small, of minor consequence, others jarringly deep, and life changing. They were viewed as explanations for the whys that followed.

So why not use that personal experience, at least in a fictional world, as a way to satisfy my curiosity about human nature? It would more than the creation a cast of characters to be plugged into a plot.  The story would be built around events, good and bad, that can affect a life. They would become the explanations for why things happened.  The characters and plot would be vehicles to tell the story.

This approach to creative writing now occupies much of my time; too much, if you ask my friends.  Some say it’s become an obsession. Others have called it a form of exorcism. Neither opinion has been rebutted.  It’s a slow process, one that would never support a book-a-year schedule.

It slow because finding the answer to the question, “Why’d he do that?” has proven to be far more difficult than assumed. It’s a complicated puzzle with many more pieces than first envisioned.  Looking for it, based on personal experience, is at times as difficult as looking for it in historical documents. The approach requires pulling memories and feelings off a back shelf of the mind and spending a lot of time thinking about another question.

“Why did I do that?”


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Bo - Welcome! Always my pleasure having you here, and always a treat to read what you've written.

Thank You!!


bo parker said...

Thanks for the opportunity. I certainly hope you are having an easier time figuring out why your characters did what the they did. Best of everything to you. Thanks again for your consideration.

Mike Orenduff said...

I suspect what Bo says about wanting to know more about the people in the stories explains why so many journalists eventually turn to writing fiction.

Bo had the good sense to wait until his journalism career was over. Maybe he can explain why today's journalists seem to be writing fiction in their reportage.


Anonymous said...

I'm a pushover for anyone from Tennessee , as all my maternal relatives came from Knoxville - the Whittles! So of course I ordered the book by Bronson and look forward to reading The Providence Death! Thelma Straw in cooler Manhattan

Patty said...

Isn't being "retired" when you can do things slowly and carefully and not get picked on? Tell those folks that your are retired and you write at your own pace!

I've always been drawn to mysteries for the same reason, I want to know who, what, where, when and why. Since I can't write I did the next best thing, I became a reference librarian!

Fiona said...

About the time I was asked to stop taking things apart, I started to write. The pachinko machine is still in the basement, slightly dismantled.
Una Tiers

Anonymous said...

Interesting post!!!!

I much enjoyed "The Providence of Death." It was as though one was immersed in the protagonist's life.

bo parker said...

Mike, I’ve often said writing is an itch that cannot be scratched into submission. After years of trying, I guess one is driven to try something “creative.” I’d like to believe there are a few people still practicing the craft of journalism the proper way. Maybe the problem is finding them among the hordes of folks who think a news lead starts with words that convey the idea of “I think,” or “In my opinion.”

Whittles. That name brings back memories from my side of town, out near Fountain City. Often traveled on Whittle Springs Road to avoid the traffic on Broadway when headed for Tazewell Pike, the route to home. Learned to play the game at the Whittle Springs Golf Course.

I do as you say, Patty, but it’s a good feeling to hear folks say they are eager to read one’s next book. Reference Librarians earned a special place in my heart during the years of writing historical non-fiction. In my opinion, the Internet will never replace you guys.

Una, a pachinko machine is a good metaphor for writing. A bunch of words go into the top with the hope that enough land in the proper slot to create something acceptable. Beyond that, it’s another batch of balls dumped into the top. As you know, it’s called rewriting.

And to see the words “interesting” and “enjoyable” used by a reader are two of the reasons I keep scratching that itch.

Pat Browning said...

Bo, you point out the most important aspect of a story -- why someone acted a certain way. (In light of current news -- the cops will be looking high and low for an answer to that question in Aurora, CO.)

Your curiosity and "digging" are what make your PROVIDENCE OF DEATH a book that lingers in my mind.

I agree that today's "journalists" are turning into wannabe columnists. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned reporters?

Sorry -- didn't mean to turn this into a rant. (-: Great post, Bo!

Pat Browning

Vicki Lane said...

The story behind the story... always fascinating. And as writers, if we can't discover what it is in fact, we can make it up to suit ourselves!

bo parker said...

Glad to hear that both of you, Pat and Vicki, understand the lure of the "why?" Maybe not being able to figure things out in the real world is why we turn to fiction. We can fill in the blanks so to speak. But it's not easy. Years ago, Bill Tapply told me to be ready to work harder than I ever had. He also quoted his father who said that not only was writing hard work, the more one learned about the process, the harder it got.

Anonymous said...

"The Providence of Death" was wonderful. We'll look forward to your next ones. (Now I am off to look up your historical writing.)