During the last week of March I attended the annual Sigma Tau Delta convention. For those who don’t know (which is probably everyone) Sigma Tau Delta is the International English Honor’s Society, a fraternity of word nerd, if you will. From comics to video games to classic literature and movie adaptations. If it’s in that realm, we talk about it. Anyway, I go every year and this year I was quite excited as I had read the work of one of our featured speakers and loved it. If you want to read my review click here. Anyway, Nnedi Okorafor was there and I had questions!
We discussed her upcoming adaptations, her working with Marvel on the new Black Panther comics and even the authors she enjoys the most and while all of that was interesting, one topic struck me the most. And that was her writing process and form.
When asked about her form and if it dictated the story, Okorafor said that form is a template. Just because you may have come up with a story and planned on it being a graphic novel doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind and write a screenplay. “The story dictates the form,” claims Okorafor. She also went on to say that it is okay to play with format, to move things around and to write weird. Why? Because labels limit. They limit what your character is able to do, how you write and sometimes even the words you’re able to use.
To paraphrase the professor and author: Don’t label it as you’re writing, don’t write for anyone else, write for yourself. And to give a direct quote, “As the writer of the book, you should always remember you’re the writer of the book.” Authors have said it time and time again, write what you like. Don’t allow someone to tell you what you can and cannot write about. What comes to mind is Little Women. Louisa May Alcott wanted that book to end while the girls were still girls but due to audience reception and her contract, when her editor told her she had to write another installation, she did. But do you know what she did? She made sure that pretty much everyone would hate it. She despised writing it because, in her mind, the story was finished, there was no need to go any further. And, I won’t give spoilers, but no one, not even her editor, was pleased with how she decided to close out that narrative. Okorafor mentioned how she has always written what she’s wanted to write and plans on keeping it that way.
Additionally, she talked about writing just to write. Now, if you’ve read any of my other posts offering advice to writers, you’ll know that I am a fervent believer of free writing. Even if it is complete nonsense, even if it had nothing to do with the epic fantasy you are working on in this moment, just writing has a way of opening your mind and expanding your creativity. Okorafor discussed how writing freely is the best way to go and it is how she approaches all of her works. This coming from a woman with a great many works under her belt, it’s always nice to know that you don’t have to conform to what you think the literati (The Literary Illuminati aka the Canon and it’s Wannabes) want!
You don’t have to have a plan!
So there’s the good news. Feel free to share it with the writers of the world. Of course, if you are one of those writers that outlines every action our characters make, that’s okay too. But don’t fret if your characters take on a life of their own or if you aren’t trying to force a ton of metaphors and symbols into your narrative. Your story is your story so tell it the way you want to, regardless of hoe someone else may receive it.
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