The Original One-Man Show

Authors are the only ones truly flying solo.


It is sometimes astonishing as the credits of a film roll by to see how many people are involved in bringing a story to the screen. There is a seemingly endless number of contributors, many of them highly paid, combining their talents on this single work. The result can be a totally absorbing two hours of entertainment that immerses us in a different world.

How can one lonely author scribbling away in the early morning or late at night (most writers have a day job, after all) hope to match this array of talent and energy? How can the intermittent creativity of a single person hope to equal the work of scores of artists at the peak of their professions?

Well, somehow, book authors manage to do it, time after time, providing hour upon hour of entertainment, emotion, stimulus, and immersion in another world. All by themselves.

The author’s acknowledgments will give credit to agents, editors, experts, beta readers, and (of course) the long-suffering spouse, partner, children. But make no mistake: That book is 90, 95, even 99 percent the work of the author.

Not so different, you might say, from the one or two or three screenwriters credited on a film. But it is. A screenwriter provides a dialogue and sketches the outline of the scenes, but the director, actors, cameramen, sound technicians, script doctors, film editors, and dozens of others fill in, revise, focus, and otherwise transform that sketch into a finished work.

The auteur theory of filmmaking tries to make the director the overarching artist behind a film — though most people go to the movies to see the actors, and it is the producers who collect the Oscar for best film. Book authors alone are responsible for their content, and they alone collect the Pulitzer, Man Booker, or Nobel prizes that acknowledge great work.

How do these authors do it? They use words, imagination, whimsy. They draw on their own loves, grief, failures, but also their intuition and empathy.

How does one person come up with the world of Harry Potter and sustain that fantastical and endlessly thrilling creation through hundreds of pages the way J.K. Rowling did? Or Hilary Mantel? Or J.R.R. Tolkien? Or Donna Tartt? Or Stephen King? Or many hundreds of lesser-known authors who thrill and entertain readers every day.

The author, of course, gets a lot of help from the reader. It is the reader who plays the role of set designer, cameraman, and director, following the evocative language of the writer. Whereas the viewers of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy simply sit back and let the special effects and epic action wash over them, the readers of Tolkien’s original books must engage their own imaginations to bring the words to life.

In the end, however, there remains the creative achievement of the author, who has poured heart, soul, and guts — or at least employed an active imagination and facility with words — into his or her work, the book you have in your hands.

That is truly astonishing.

Darrell Delamaide, a journalist and author in Washington, DC, writes a food blog, You Are What You Eat, and a book blog, Cogito Ergo Sum. He is also the author of two novels, The Grand Mirage” target=“_blank”>The Grand Mirage, as well as two nonfiction books.


 

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