Writing is like dancing, or perhaps it would be more correct to say writers are like dancers. Like anything else, there is a progression from rank beginner to consummate artist. Some never make it that far.
The Toddler Writer
Watching a toddler dance tickles your heart. They don’t have the moves down, might not even move their feet, but they bounce around to the music they feel in their soul and you can’t help getting caught up in their enthusiasm.
Some writers are like that. They have little grasp of the tech, but they have a great story, good enough you want to keep reading, and their enthusiasm carries you over any rough spots. With practice and encouragement, they may become clumsies. Some skip that phase.
The Clumsy Writer
Clumsy dancers trip over their own feet and the feet of their partners. They’re trying hard, but just not quite getting it. These are the writers that belabor everything. They repeat something over and over, in case you don’t get it the first time. They head-hop. They mix up timelines. But despite that, there is something in the writing that engages the reader and keeps him reading on.
Some clumsies progress through mechanical to show-off to prima ballerina. Others just get less and less clumsy and then suddenly they are dancing Odette in Swan Lake.
The Mechanical Dancer
Mechanical dancers are trying so hard to get the steps right that they almost ignore the music. That sweat on their brow comes from concentration, not exercise. When writers are at this stage, they’ve mastered a lot of techniques, but are concentrating so hard on getting it right that their prose is wooden, no longer infused with passion. You may finish reading their book, but probably won’t recommend it.
Mechanical dancers, with enough practice, stop looking at their feet. They’ve got the steps committed to memory. Now they can let the music infuse them. They’re on the way to prima ballerina.
So it is with mechanical writers. They may or may not pass through the show-off stage. If they lose heart, they may become lazies. If they push past the fatigue and frustration, they become excellent writers.
The Show-off Writer
Show-off dancers take over the floor. They know all the moves and make sure you know they know them. They exaggerate every kick, every gesture. Show-off writers are like that. If there’s a literary device available, they cram it in somehow. Prologues, epilogues, premonitions, flashbacks, you name it.
The Lazy Writer
You’ve probably seen a lot of lazy dancers. They stand in one place with their eyes closed and sway a bit to the music, possibly shift from foot to foot, but their rhythm never changes, no matter what the beat is.
Lazy writers mistake formula for form. Their grammar is atrocious, their spelling worse. You might mistake them for clumsies, but there’s a difference. With clumsy writers, their passion shows through and carries the reader past the faux pas. With lazies, there isn’t enough passion or originality to make you want to keep reading.
The Chorus Line Writer
Some dancers are good enough to appear onstage, but never in a starring role. They’re chorus line dancers or corps de ballet. Their moves are solid; their timing is good. They just don’t have that je ne sais quoi of the prima ballerina.
Chorus line writers turn out books acceptable enough to appeal to many readers. They may even have some best-sellers. Certainly they will have fans. But often they churn out another book quickly at the expense of passion and originality. They will never be plucked from the chorus line to be a prima ballerina.
The Prima Ballerina Writer
What a joy it is to watch a prima ballerina dance. Every movement is perfection, every gesture graceful. They carry you with them, the muscles of your own body straining to duplicate the motion. These dancers have perfected their art through many painful hours of practice.
The prima ballerina writer’s prose is poetry. There is music in every line. His plots, whatever the genre, are gut-wrenching. His characters are so real you would recognize them if you met them in the street. He wrings every last drop of emotion out of your heart and then somehow magically creates more. When you reach the end of his book, you feel like your best friend just died. You can’t bear the sorrow of parting. You just have to get his next book.
All dancers aspire to be prima ballerinas or the equivalent. Not all are willing to put in the hours of rehearsal, the tiny corrections of body posture, until those graceful moves become muscle memory. Writers do that through what seems like endless editing and judicious consideration of readers’ comments. Over time, their writing strengthens and becomes art.
No writer can please every reader. Readers have specific tastes and genre preferences, just as they prefer certain types of dance. One may rave about what another hates. One may clap half-heartedly, another stomp and whistle.
But how satisfying it must be to receive a standing ovation and cries of “Bravo!”.