Thursday, February 14, 2008

This and That

We'd all be better served, I think, if I were to take a day each week and write one really good blog. One with a lead, a middle and end, and ostensibly something worthwhile to impart.

Well, too ain't the day. (Nor the week.)

Anyway, for some reason, blog topics--and their associated openings, zingers, and life-shattering epiphanies--usually pop into my head at night when I'm busy working on the novel stuff. Of course, if I were an anal, post-it note keeper, I'd have a stack of material at my fingertips just waiting for the free moment in which to assemble the little gems into fascinating prose.

But anal, I'm not.

And, see, here's what else happens: Little snippets of ideas flash through my mind. Not enough for a full blog post without taking a little time and effort, but worthy ones nonetheless. Like this: Men, please don't buy your ladies slutty lingerie for Valentine's Day. That's a present for YOU, not HER.

Sigh. Yes, Valentine's Day deserves a lot more attention than the above one-liner but, sadly, I don't have the time to figure it out, so you'll have to make do.

Oh, and I stumbled over a huge new pet peeve this morning which I instantly filed in my mental storage cabinet...only to lose it in the shambles I call my brain.

A shame, really.

But what bothers me most are all the writing discoveries burning a whole in my gut and dying for expression. Oh, hell. Indulge me. Allow me to spew without conscious regard for form and structure.

So I was writing a scene in which my heroine is walking across a studio lot on her way to a new position--the one she's dreamed of all her life. I portray her as apprehensive, a little scared at what the future holds because I knew in advance how it would end: with disappointment that the reality of our dreams isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

I could have left it at that.

Then I remembered what Robert McKee has to say about positive and negative values--that, for instance, if a scene starts on a negative, it should end on a positive, and vice versa. Following his advice, I knew I had the scene wrong. It went from a negative to a negative. So instead, I went back and portrayed my heroine as bursting with optimism. Excited at the prospects of her new future.

THEN I slammed her head-first into reality.

Positive to negative.

A better scene, I'm convinced.

Which leads me to something else I've been thinking about a lot lately. Robert McKee insists that just because you've read a million books, doesn't mean you can write one. Likewise, just because you've been listening to music all your life, doesn't mean you can sit down and whip out a symphony. You have to study the craft. Now, I know I'll get arguments from authors who "pants" (write by the seat of their pants), and it's true that I believe some aspects of craft sneak into the subconscious by virtue of constant exposure to the structure. But, here's what else Mckee says: when a writer relies on those skills and to the extent they result in a satisfying story, guess what else happens? The work is imitative.

Sadly, I think his conclusion is borne out by much of what passes for movies and novels marketed to the masses these days.

Craft is everything.


Carol B. said...

I'm mostly a pantser and I have to agree. Craft has to be studied. That's why I'm still taking classes, attending day-long workshops and--darn it!--I still have craft books to be read. STORY is one of them. The more you talk about it, the more I think I should read it.

Maybe after I've finished these revisions...

Oh, and you've been TAGGED! Go check out the instructions on my blog post today.

John said...

I also write by the seat of my pants, letting the characters go where they feel like, and being surprised by the results.

I have noticed that some writers can do this and some can't. Those who can't seem to feel the need to tell those who can that their writing is second best or maybe even imitative. Maybe it is. But, as I love to write and let things go wherever, I'll just have to live with being second best.

By the way, some of us who write by the seat of our pants think those who format and outline everything are writing by the numbers, like those paint kits.

So formula vs. imitative. Which is better?

Randy said...

I never meant to say that one method is better than another. Writers have to use whatever means works for them. And, I'm still more of a pantser than a plotter, myself. BUT, to the extent a writer uses instinct to move his/her story, I think it's interesting to explore the notion that our choices may stem from what's inbedded in our pscyhe from seeing the same thing before. And, to me, the more I know about structure and consciously use it to plot, the better off I think I'll be. Doesn't mean I can't let characters take me in different directions; in fact, that's still an important part of the creative process. But I think I'll have a better framework. Hell, at least, it might mean fewer revisions!

John said...

My complaint was about those who criticize writing styles opposite their own. It seems like for some people to validate what they do, they have to reduce others. To me, anyone who writes, no matter how they do it, is great. If the quality of a panster is bad, switching to a formula probably isn't going to help. And all writers should study.

I can't do the, "OK, in this next scene, she is going to do X, Y, and Z, and I'm going to write that." The minute I want her to do X, she is off doing H with someone I never even knew about.

Perhaps all writing is imitative, as we can only write what enters our minds, and it has to come from someplace. The art is making it read well, either in pant or form.