December 7, 2009

On My Own Work & Two Kinds of Writers

Right...that's what this blog was supposed to be about. Long-winded diatribes exaggerating my limited knowledge of writing to avoid actually having to do any.

Lately, I've found talking about my own projects detracts from their need to be written. Not a universal need, of course, just a personal one. If someone asks what I'm working on--a rarity in itself--a hasty, manufactured response is all they get. Anything more and the story is lessened somehow. I think this has to do with "speaking" the story too much before it is written. At some point the story gets told too soon.

But I will say that I have a larger project in mind, one I hope to start in January. My prep has been intermittent, and was heading down the wrong track before an all-important conversation with a friend. I had been working on a time-line, story arcs, chapter breakdowns--a skeleton of what the plot was to be before I began writing out. The problem was, the entire process felt completely disingenuous.

Speaking this aloud to a friend, she mentioned her opinions on novel writing methods. For her, writers of novels fall into two camps: those who work from a plot-driven framework and those character-based.

The plot-driven writer is compelled to sort out the bones of her story beforehand--as best she can for a first draft. The story is then a matter of adding flesh to the bones. Or maybe it's a matter of dredging the body out of centuries-old peat bogs. Difficult to say. Tweaking comes later.

Character-based writing, to my understanding, follows a protagonist (at first) through an ordeal. It can be existential, or merely an unraveling, prima facie event that requires challenge. But the writing, for the author, is exploratory--a delving into the mind of something or someone other.

Both methods are completely legitimate--and both produce great literature. But what is produced differs greatly. For example one can read hard-hitting crime/detective novels that deliver fine prose, but focus on the mechanics and complexities of the story arc. I presume the authors of such works to write from the plot-driven method.

On the other side, experimental pieces that study the human-ness of a character and, in deceptive fashion, pull away from traditional structures. A character moves through the world and becomes a living, intuitive mechanism in their own concentric plot. It's not that plot doesn't exist, but it doesn't take main stage. It can even seem too simplistic because the focus is on character choices, and the arrival at such choices. The focus seems more microscopic.

I like to think I can tell which method an author employs as I'm reading their book. Probably not true--at least not entirely. I've read great books from both methods, though. And, as to be expected, those sadly less-than-impressive.


Sam said...

Good for you, Harry. The important thing is to get it done.

Outlining totally depends, not only on the writer but the project. I guess for me I avoided plotting for years because it seemed less glamourous--your stories are supposed to flow out like limpid eddies from a heather-lined brook or something.

Now, I think the reason I enjoy plotting is because it's unglamourous.

Harry Tournemille said...

I doubt the two methods are as mutually exclusive as I implied. I mean, there has to be an element of plotting in everyone's work--it seems part and parcel, doesn't it?

I've never done it with short stories, but the sheer amount of text involved in novel writing begs some sort of organization. At least for me.

Sam said...

But you're right to point out the different approaches. You have to play to your strengths. What I like about your writing is the way you filter descriptions through the characters, so that while you're describing something, a setting, you're also gaining insight into the characters' minds. That's hard to do. I think you'd want less plot, since that would leave you room to explore.

Anyway, best of luck with it.

Harry Tournemille said...

Thanks, hombre. I look forward to reading your work too.