Friday, 19 September 2014

Such an interesting bunch! - Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Authors are a varied and intriguing lot, I have decided. I have met many in person at writing conferences, seminars and book events, as well as online. And, after all, I am one of them! Recently, I saw afresh what a vast mixture of writing approaches and writing goals we have when I set myself the task of reading or re-reading several well-known books on writing. Out of all this, I came to what may well be some obvious conclusions.

Firstly, there is no one right road towards producing that literary masterpiece. There may be some things authors all need to do, such as drawing the reader on with that exciting narrative arc or creating characters readers care about—but how we do this will vary. For example, some of us may agree with Stephen King’s views on plotting:
I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless ... and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. (On Writing: A memoir of the craft p 163)
Some may also relate to Anne Lamott ‘s thoughts about characterisation:
Just don’t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t stay open to them. It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple. (Bird by Bird p 53)
But some of us, on the other hand, may revel in using those detailed plotting timelines and in-depth character studies or clarifying our thoughts via complex mind maps or some version of Randy Ingermanson’s ‘snowflake method’. We are all different. And that’s okay. That’s how God intended it to be.

I am bearing all this in mind as I prepare my upcoming workshop on memoir writing for the Christian Writers’ Conference to be held next month (see http://www.christianwritersconference.dx.am/). Yes, I plan to discuss the importance of working out the theme and structure of that memoir before we start—at least to some degree. But I shy away from advocating that authors follow one narrow path in it all. I hate being squeezed into any mould myself. And I am not even totally convinced about those rigid delineations between different genres at times. Where does biography become memoir or vice versa, for example? Where does memoir become ‘creative fiction’ when our memory might fail us or our perception of certain events differs from others’? There is a place for fluidity even here, in my opinion.

Secondly, we have different goals in choosing to write. Yes, we may agree we want to provide readers with good, uplifting fiction or non-fiction that honours God. We may all even hope to make a tiny profit in the process! But, while many of us will desire to encourage our readers in some way and perhaps even challenge or inspire them, others will aim simply to entertain and enable readers to relax a little. We may each also have underlying, even subconscious motives in doing what we do, I believe, which will usually colour our own unique writing voice. It may be that we feel we have to write—that this is what we were created to do and what we find most fulfilling. It may be that as we write, we are making sense of our lives. It may even be that, as we write, we are finding ourselves.

And that’s part of what makes it all so interesting, don’t you agree?


Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for that Jo. I'm looking forward to your memoir workshop at the conference.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've just finished preparing the workshop, Nola, but will no doubt reflect on it a lot more before then. I hope it will be helpful, but there's so much to say it's hard to know what to leave out. And, with such interesting authors like you there, Nola, I had better leave time for comments from you all!

      Delete
  2. Thanks Jo-Anne for a thoughtful post. Great to remember that we are all different and what works for me doesn't necessarily work for someone else. That's one of the things I love about God's creation - the diversity - and how beautiful when that diversity works in harmony together :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. So true, Jeanette. Even as I was preparing my workshop, I kept thinking I didn't do all the things I suggest in it when I wrote the two memoirs I have written! Yet I was also remembering that other authors approach things differently so it's important to mention the different ways of writing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Such an interesting take on the craft, Jo. Yes, we really need to learn the basics but then write in our own way. Otherwise it just becomes a case of following a set formula which can turn a great story into the mundane.
    A few weeks back at a conference I was introducing a lady who holds a PHD from Oxford and works in Ghana teaching young African women to write their stories. Just for fun I said, 'With fiction you can have a plot with twists and turns, a villain giving the protagonists a hard time, and also some romance. This makes for a page-turner...so how do you capture the same interest in a non-fiction story?' She looked me straight in the eye and said, ' We use a plot, tell about an antagonist, (a person, the elements, or maybe the culture) giving the main character/s a hard time and maybe also some romance!' That garnered a hearty laugh from the audience and helped sell her books!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Rita. And what insightful comments from the lady who helps Ghanaian women tell their stories! Funnily enough, I had already decided to mention something along those lines at the beginning of my workshop--I have seen in my own journey of coming to memoir writing after having written six novels how much crafting a novel can help with crafting a memoir. With memoir, you still need that good narrative arc and the interesting characters and the challenging people/situations etc--it's all simply part of good story telling, don't you think?

      Delete
  5. Love this post and the fact that God makes us all so different so there is no one right way to craft a novel, poem or memoir. I'm sure all who go will enjoy your workshop Jo-Anne.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're such an encourager, Dale--thank you! I am aware there will be a good number of fiction writers at the conference but I hope there will also be some at least who are into writing memoir or biography or the like.

      Delete
  6. By the way, the term 'creative fiction' I have used in the fourth paragraph of my blog should read 'creative non-fiction'. My apologies! Put it down to having a bad dose of the flu!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jo-Anne, fascinating post! I'm curious about the genre distinctions. I've heard people say they like reading biographies and memoirs, as if they're in the same category. They're often shelved together in book stores. Thanks for sharing your perspective with us :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Narelle, a definition of memoir I like is: 'Memoir is an aspect of a life shaped by any number of parameters, including time, place, topic or theme.' So a memoir could be about a particular period in our lives or a particular relationship or our journey in search of meaning etc. A biography or autobiography tends to cover the whole of a person's life--but sometimes not everything is mentioned in a biography/autobiography. So is it more a memoir then? Also, the memoir I have just finished writing includes a lot about my life but also has a little bit of teaching, plus some questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. So ... what is it??? Hmmm!

    ReplyDelete