Thursday, April 19, 2012
The Art of Writing No. 18
A reader has pointed out that my dichotomy of clay and lego to crudely divide approaches to writing are somewhat patronizing and imbalanced. That was not the intention. By clay I meant organically developed narratives where the writer is only one step ahead of the reader in understanding what is going on, while by lego I meant that much of literature is plugged together from familiar elements within a genre. Maybe I should have used plasticine and meccano as metaphors, though those remembering that latter are fewer on the ground as each decade passes! The reader pointed out that the terms themselves are from a child’s world, not from an adult’s. I tried to defend myself by saying (did I wholly believe it?) that authors should have a child-like playfulness to be properly creative. Engaging with the construction of a novel is akin to entering a playroom, bursting with potential, eyes wide and trusting.
Actually, the reason we have genres in writing is because there forms are so appealing. Most successfully rich authors are those who mine a stratum of precious metal efficiently, satisfying their readers’ desire for certain verities; structural topographies, a range of characters, degrees of credibility and satisfying narratives. It does not mean that they do not borrow from plasticine’s organic elements. Better still if their novels belong to a series where the reader feels s/he knows the chief protagonists and their relationships, traits and modus operandi. If clay is an art and lego is a craft, all writers will try to utilize some elements from each.
A reader’s review I had the other day regarding Azimuth (http://pushes.jacksanger.com/reviews) said she loved the trilogy but did not know much about the genre. This nonplussed me. What genre is it? By stipulating a genre it might be easier to market it to a specific audience but that would obviously be limiting, as well. Most writers would love a crossover hit of a novel that appeals to everyone at some level or other. Azimuth contains elements of fantasy, fable, modern philosophy, labyrinthine plotting and pulsating (!) adventuring. A one name genre title would surely be too restrictive.
I realize this blog has been less practical than I might have wished so will tether an useful insight to it.
Because I write organically myself, wondering where the next paragraph of a meal is coming from and because it is easy to forget detail as I progress through my novel’s circumlocutions, I constantly make notes about people, places and events at the bottom of my draft concerning what has just been written. These are seeds which alert me to what MUST be dealt with later, what facets of character might affect future behaviours, what puzzles must then be solved, what an environment looks like, the colour of hair and eyes, the skills and/or character defects of individuals. Once I have satisfied the reason for keeping this self-advisory note in my later writing, I scrub it. Thus, I try to ensure that there are no loose ends that will trip up the storyline. It is the novelist’s version of ‘continuity’ in film. This does not mean being too smartass neat and tidy at the end of a book but rather that the integrity of character and plot has been maintained throughout , even if there are still poignant questions hanging in the air at the end.