15 September 2008

What We Talk of When We Talk of Writing

I found out the other day that a good friend of mine who is a writer didn't really know what a scene was. Another friend, also a very good writer, manages to write symbolism without ever knowing what she means. And recently, I saw a seasoned (unpublished) writer say that she tells everyone that they should never, ever, EVER use a template, or an outline etc.

This got me thinking.

Photo from Stock Xchange

How does this happen? And is it a good thing? What do we mean when we say, 'I'm a writer'?

Fundamentally, of course, we mean that we Write. We sit down, day after day, applying butt to chair and fingers to keyboard - or pen to paper, if you prefer. We create people, places, events - and stories. In creating these stories, we use a vast variety of techniques and methods, some of us planning everything down to the last detail, some of us making it up as we go along. Neither of these methods is intrinsically good, and neither is intrinsically bad. Both have pros, and both have cons - the time sink of worldbuilding that the over-planner can fall into, and the horrible muddle of middle that can attack the pantster are good examples of cons.

Some times, we know exactly what we're doing. We know that we're doing this to create just the right level of tension, that to show character motivation, this to strengthen the structure...

And some times, we have no idea. We run on gut instinct, trusting our muse - or our subconscious, for those of you averse to the 'muse' concept - to get us through, to give us the magic and pull things together for us.

Both of these are, to some degree, a part of being a writer. But I fundamentally believe that the more you know about the technique of what you're doing - the how - the easier it is to do it. To use an analogy, writing is like baking a cake. You can throw it all together with a general understanding of what a house looks like, and what goes where, and come out with an okay result. You can follow a recipe that someone else made precisely, and be assured of a decent end product.

Or you can learn the technique behind the recipe, the why's and how's that make it work, and you can strike out on your own, covering territory that no one else has covered - you can be an individual, and you can shine. You shine, because you know the tools so well, you know when to use each, and when to use none.


You can write, hoping that you'll get through the end if you just string one event after the other - and you will. You can use someone else's method, copy what they do, how they plot and plan and write, and you'll get saleable work. But to shine - to really, truly shine - you have to know the rules and tools so well that you know when to use them, and when to invent a new tool of your own.

Like a master craftsmen, you bend existing tools to your needs, expanding their uses and abilities, and where nothing exists to do the job you need - you make a new tool.

You can only do this when you know what tools already exist.

If you don't know what a scene is, if you can't create a deep character or draw a conflict out of an event; if you can't tell a noun from a verb and your grammar is all which ways... Can you really be a master craftsman?


Merc said...

Great post, Inky! %-)

*eyes the opening* Hmmm, writes symbolism without a clue she's doing it... why does that sound familiar? O:)

I do agree though, you have an excellent fundamental point: you have to know the hows and whys of your craft if you want to become good at it.

I'm trying! Well, sorta. :P I should try harder, and figure out exactly what it is I need to learn...


Am linking to your post. :D


Inkblot said...


I think you've hit the nail on the head - the hardest part is figuring out /what/ you need to learn. If you don't know it, then chances are pretty high you don't know /about/ it, and how can you improve on something you don't even know exists?

I guess that's where a broad reading list comes in, with both fiction and non-fiction, your genre and others, stuff about writing, and stuff about stuff. The more you immerse yourself in the world of writing, the more likely you are to pick up on things you didn't know about before :)

Glad you liked the post. Thanks for the link :)

Chelle said...

"But I fundamentally believe that the more you know about the technique of what you're doing - the how - the easier it is to do it."

But for me, the words flowed so much quicker and faster when I was clueless. (not saying that I"m not anymore.) But the more my head fills with what I need to be doing the harder it is for me to just write and have fun.

Granted most of my stories that I wrote when I didn't know how much I didn't know aren't sellable :-) they were fun.

Now, I get so bogged down with "digging deeper," characterization and the like that I struggle so much more. But I am coming up with a much better product.

Very good post Inky Binky

Inkblot said...

Chelle! Wow, it's SO good to hear from you! :)

I see what you're saying.

I started typing a response here, but it got too long. I'll do it up as a post and post it next week, k? :)


chelle said...

Thanks. I'll make sure I read it!

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