Funny little word that, craft. A dictionary might define it as ‘a skill involved in making things by hand.’ Or, ‘to make or construct (something) with care or ingenuity.’ A craftsman is a chooser–– of the raw material, the design of the material, even the final outcome of putting all that material together, what the combined material will be. A craftsman is skilled––’having or showing the knowledge, ability, or training to perform a certain activity or task well.’
I think about writing that way. Writing is choosing words strung together to become an idea. An idea needs a theme. A theme needs a character. A character needs a place to hang out and a place to go and so a description evolves. An evolving description needs a plot. A plot needs a compelling beginning, middle and end. A character needs a point of view. A point of view becomes a narrative. And then, wow, you have crafted a story!
My raw material is letters, letters put into an order that has meaning becoming a word. A word that is a thing or an action. How I place those nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, how I meld that raw material together is my craft. And while writing on the computer is most effective and efficient, I’ve found that sitting, loose leaf paper in front of me, pen in hand, joining those letters into words, those words into action is a way to connect my brain and my story. I am constructing. I am choosing. I am making something by hand.
I thought of all of this listening to Jordan Brown give his Seven Rules for Writing Middle Grade Fiction. Why? Because no matter how many rules there are, there are never enough to identify, define, or assume craft. You can have all the check lists in the world, but they will never ‘provide’ craft. It wasn’t a checklist that designed the John Hancock Tower or the Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas, it was the craftsman I.M. Pei. It wasn’t a checklist that developed the process for open heart surgery, it was the craftsman Michael DeBakey. There were no rules, there was only the making or constructing with care or ingenuity. This is craft, yes in differing fields, still craft.
So I sort of translated, instead of saying the Seven Rules for Writing Middle Grade Fiction, perhaps it would be Think of These Seven Things When Writing Middle Grade Fiction. No not nearly as catchy. And if it was written out in long hand, it might just be ‘hit these marks, over and over. Practice them. Understand them. Be true to them. And then maybe, maybe you will have developed your craft enough to design a John Hancock Tower of Middle Grade Fiction, or performed the open heart surgery of Middle Grade Fiction.’
With apologies to Mr. Brown, he did say just that––there are no rules. What he gave us were the ingredients, the raw material beyond the words and the story idea, beyond the characters and the plot, beyond the point of view and the narrative. These are the things that elevate the story from looking like it was material slapped together, to something designed with care and ingenuity.
Seven ingredients. When you think of children’s literature do you think seven too many or too few? But it was his seventh ingredient that echoed Anthony Horowitz–Write Up To Your Readers. Twice in one conference. How could I refuse?