The novel I’m currently reading is entitled Japantown by Barry Lancet. Japantown is a section of San Francisco to which our protagonist, one Jim Brodie, is called as a consultant to view a murder scene. There he finds an entire family of Japanese tourists killed with gunfire—two children and three adults. While he is there, he notices a hanji—one of the characters Japanese use in their writing. It’s exactly like the hanji that was outside his home in Los Angeles a couple years earlier when his wife and in-laws died in a house fire.
I’m still in the early stages of the book, so I won’t go into all the details. I just needed to give you that much of the story (in my opinion, anyway) so you’d understand it when he realizes later—after an altercation with a rather disagreeable fellow who pulls a knife on him—that, even though this murder was done in a public place and has the SFPD investigating it, for some reason whoever did this crime is more worried about him than they are the entire police department of a major city.
I wouldn’t say Barry Lancet is an exceptional writer—at least not so far—but he’s good enough to hold my interest. Our protagonist grew up in Japan, so he knows the culture, and he’s also a specialist in Japanese art, and owns an art/antique store in San Francisco as well as runs his late father’s private investigation company in Tokyo. He straddles both words and that makes him uniquely qualified to consult with the police on this case.
So the writing is good enough to keep me interested, and I always like reading about characters in Jim Brodie’s position of more or less bridging two worlds while never quite fitting into either. But the passage where Brodie realizes that the person who committed this crime fears him more than the entire SFPD—I really liked that. Made me wish I could write a passage like that.
How many times have we as writers done something like that? Read something from an author—whether new or an old favorite—and wished we could do that?
It occurs to me that we probably do. And I don’t mean that in some arrogant way.
Look, I get lots of folks tell me I’m a good writer. Some even say I’m a very good writer. But it doesn’t change the struggles I go through to put words on paper, or how much I wrestle with getting plot elements to work just right. Maybe it’s that struggling and wrestling that, in the end, makes my writing good, I don’t know. I certainly hope so, ’cause if not, I need to find another method.
But all of us are unique writers. I’ve read passages by pretty much every writer in my group that I wished I coulda written. And if it’s not particular passages, it’s a concept or storyline. We all see things we wish we would have done or thought of ourselves.
So if so many other writers are doing that, it stands to reason we’re at least occasionally doing something that those other writers wish they’d come up with. It’s a far too common occurrence for it to be otherwise.
Things is, we’re too close to our work to see it.
We start out imitating. I’ve got an old short story still hanging around that reads like somebody imitating Stephen King. We have to start out imitating someone else to find our own voice. It took me years and switching genres to find mine.
It’s the same with every writer who sticks with the craft. We find our own voice, make our own mark in the world. We do it every time we sit down at the keyboard. Maybe the passage we write today won’t be the one that makes another author go, “Gee, I wanna do that,” but then again, maybe it will.
Either way, it’ll be in your voice.
So next time you see a particular passage and think I wanna do that, realize that you are. For somebody out there. Just as they’ll someday do it for somebody else.
And so the circle turns.