Celebrate the Unexpected in Your Writing by Susan Doherty Osteen
Serious writers and readers understand clichés weaken a story. I’m not just referring to hackneyed phrases. Predictable dialog, formulaic plot lines, and stock characters all recycle the expected and the overdone. The term creative writing [which is what we are supposed to be doing J]suggests something new and savvy. Readers expect this from their literature. However, it can be daunting to craft something fresh over and over again from the same 26 letters.
The best advice I have for people wanting to write creative stories is to examine real life. The teenager with a crush, the eccentric aunt, or the over-bearing mother… these tropes of literature often veer off script when they play out in the real world. It is when our expectations are disappointed that we find life interesting. It is these stranger-than fiction moments that make a series of events into a story.
In South Carolina, we are blessed with an abundance of people and places that are too amazing to be products of imagination. This is the drive behind Wild, Wonderful, 'n Wacky South Cackalacky, the latest book from Southern Sass Publishing. Sandy Richardson and I discovered a book’s-worth of amusing tales that surprise and delight. Instead of inventing stories, we sought out true events. If you are from South Carolina, or have spent any time in this great state, you might recognize characters in the book. However, the quirky and uniquely SC mannerisms, dialect, and actions of the people captured in these pages defy easy categorization. It is too simplistic to use the trite phrase “the book wrote itself.” (Such a lie is never true.) But the stories already existed, waiting patiently for two determined editors to collect them and bind them into an anthology.
While Wild, Wonderful, 'n Wacky South Cackalacky is not a book of fiction, the idea behind the book is valid for all types of creative writing. Next time you are sitting in a waiting room, stuck in a long line at the grocery store, or have a layover at the Atlanta airport, take a minute to evaluate the people around you. Try to write stories in your mind about the characters you see. Force them into the clichés you think you know, and sit back and watch. In real life, they will most likely do something out of the ordinary, beyond your cliché. That is when you have material for a scene or the basis for a rounded-out character. That is creative writing.
An honors graduate of journalism from TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, Susan Doherty Osteen, has worked for a variety of newspapers and non-profit organizations. In 2010 after more than a decade of collaborative research, she published Tracing a Legacy, a 950 page tomb chronicling her family’s ranching empire from County Donegal, Ireland, to the American Wild West. Her essay about her mother-in-law is published in His Mother. Susan lives in South Carolina with her husband and two children. She continues to write for regional publications and is working on a three-part novel, as well as attending graduate school at USC Columbia in the MFA program.