Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

Book Review
Making a Good Writer Great

by Linda Seger

Reviewed by Gerri Baker
2003, Gerri Baker

ver wish you could snap your fingers and be creative right there, on the spot? I know I do. In this era of fast-paced, tightly packed schedules that run seven days a week, creative time is a precious commodity. When those few hours finally come, writers have to be ready to write. But muses are fickle, and creativity doesn't just flow when the hour has been struck. Or does it? Linda Seger, in Making a Good Writer Great, suggests that creativity can be summoned whenever needed, which puts the writer, not the muse, in control.

What makes Seger's book different is her approach to creating. Instead of recounting personal experiences, she starts by asking the hard question: are you willing to commit to being a better writer? If so, then she shares the techniques to put all that creative energy at the writer's fingertips. Seger suggests that writers begin with memories, the bits and pieces of life, and combine them with originally unrelated memories. This process creates new ideas, makes new connections, and pushes the creative force ahead.

Then, Seger shows how take creativeness to the next level.  Writers need to figure out when they best work, whether during the morning, noon, afternoon, evening, or night, and schedule accordingly, playing to their strengths and revising during the down-time. In the process, writers should train themselves to use diverse ideas and combine them in new and exciting ways. Add in the twist that truth gives to fiction, and the power of theme, and writers go to the next level, from good to great.

But the process of creating doesn't end with self-knowledge and discipline. Seger suggests five specific areas of life writers can mine for inspiration.

Sensation-thinking puts the writer straight into the action by using sensory descriptions beyond just what the visual of the scene is. Emotions and physical senses can be tapped to make scenes more real for the audience, and, if necessary, more uncomfortable.

Dreams can be a great source of drama and inspiration. Dream journals provide a way to record and analyze dreams for a later time. Seger emphasizes that dreams are the time when the right brain, the creative side, comes out to play while the logical left brain is tucked away, so dreams, if channeled, can become a creative playground.

Seger thinks the true key to creating memorable characters is to be in touch with the shadow-self. She even titles a chapter "Why Your Shadow is Essential to Your Success as a Writer." The flaws are where characters become real, where the most growth takes place. There, lurking in the dark, taboos and evil spring forth to balance out the good that shines outwardly. People are made up of both dark and light, and so are the best characters.

Along with the idea of shadows, Seger suggests opposition, whether in characters or scenes, adds depth to writing. Putting characters, protagonist or antagonist, in opposition with themselves creates a new kind of conflict, one that transforms characters from simple beings to complex people. Scenes can also use juxtaposition of light and dark to create layers of meaning.

Spirituality is another place where writers can come into contact with creativity. Seger believes that creation is a natural act, and creativity is merely an out branch of the Spirit, or God, of anything that can transform people. While she does acknowledge that some people do not share that view, she goes on to talk about how her faith has helped her become a more creative person.

Then, after finishing the writing, Seger suggests finding quality feedback, from both friends and more professional sources. Be open to what people say, she urges, and be willing to find the right person for the stage the story is in. Someone who is able to see the big picture of a story would be better for an earlier draft. Later drafts benefit more from a line-by-line reader. Then the writer must be willing to take all feedback and analyze what the readers have said.

At each stage, Seger provides not just information on the chapter topic, but also a series of exercises for readers to use to open up their personal creative avenues. She even takes into account that different writers use different methods, gently steering non-structuralists to chapters that might better serve their needs. While these exercises are focused on screenplay writing, all the techniques can be easily applied to prose.

Overall, Making a Good Writer Great is what this book is all about. Seger shows how the best writers get their muse on demand by seizing control of their own creativity.  With her methods, great writers can develop the techniques and the depths to create their own stories from the wellsprings within themselves as well as use the world around them for inspiration.

Linda Seger. Making a Good Writer Great: A Creativity Workbook for Screenwriters. (Silman-James Press, 1999, ISBN 1-879505-19-5)  $14.95 U.S.