Friday, December 4, 2009

Different is not bad. It's just different.

I'm not trying to chase off people who get itchy when self-examination comes up, but ever since the Black Diamond class I've been thinking about pantsing. I always pictured my workshop as random thoughts on structure, but after the umpteenth person told me, "I thought something was wrong with me," I realized I'd always thought something was wrong with me, too.

I plotted and outlined, used index cards and turning points. You name it, I studied it. I must have listened to every RWA lecture for the last five years at least six times, and read every book I could find before branching out into screenwriting. I've wiki'd and spread-sheeted, interviewed and story-boarded. But like the U2 song--I couldn't find what I was looking for, and while I had ideas I'd been working on over the years, none of them had gelled into cohesive theory because it was too radically outside the box.

There are pantsers who talk and write articles, but it's usually "my journey" or "how I do things." Nothing solid on how the field works as a whole. Grammar is there for a reason, but rules were created by people, and like all "current best practices" are subject to change. Knowledge and "school" are not necessarily the same, like plot and structure aren't necessarily the same.

Back in the days before RWA, we were isolated. We learned through trial, error and desperate fumbling. As a group we've evolved into the biggest teaching organization in the world, and in the process grown rigid and intolerant. Telling new writers and people who haven't sold, "Take what you can use, and leave the rest, but remember--if you do this, you can sell that," is bad.

Gina once said the good thing about romance writers is they're nice. And the bad thing about romance writers is--right, they're nice.

Nice people create crit groups whose individual members take lectures and workshops and create peer pressure.

Do "this". Think "this" way. Listen to me, just the other day a New York Times Bestselling author told me that she always scratches herself with her right hand and uses a broad felt tip as she storyboards. You have to scratch yourself too. Everyone does.

Everyone plots. Everyone uses the "W", everyone colors description in red and internal dialog in blue, you've got to have white space, you've got to use third-person.

It's your process.

No one can tell you how to write. Some people don't need a plot starting out, and that doesn't make them wrong. It makes them different. Multi-dimensional thinking is "polyphonic." The definition (from PC aka personal computer magazine) of polyphonic is "The ability to play back a number of musical notes simultaneously. For example, 16-voice polyphony means a total of 16 notes, or waveforms, can be played concurrently."

In other words, some people can multi-task books and some people prefer to work on one thing at one time. If you can see all sixteen notes, that's pretty cool. If you like the purity of a single note--that's cool too. Character-driven books appeal to certain people, and plot driven books appeal to certain other people.

Like a faith journey, organic writers grow through stages--the joy of writing you experience when you first start out, affiliative writing, with its emphasis on community and belonging; searching writing with its doubts and critical judgments, and owned writing, writing that has been fully examined and is fully lived as part of one's personal identity.

Some people don't get faith journeys, and prefer you talk of, look at, or think about your journey in ways that don't work for you. Hailey is right, sometimes people can mess you up, not out of spite or cussedness, but out of love. Knowing and sharing what's right for them doesn't make it right for you. And trying to conform is like rejecting God. If you truly believe, saying you don't is a betrayal of your soul.

For someone to say, "this" is good when you can see something else--something intangible is better, doesn't have one answer. There are many answers, just like the many actions your character might or might not take.


Hailey Edwards said...

"In organic structure, we start at point A, but how we get to point D is different. In a linear plot, you'd see John get a pink slip and walk past a Workers Retraining poster. In an organic, character-driven story, you'd see John in a crappy job, staring at the ceiling in bed, a stack of bills on the counter, his kids in a rundown second rate school and his fear that maybe that's all there is, maybe he can't get his kids out of poverty."

I copy/pasted this so I could find it easily. Kind of as a personal reminder. I read it and thought -this is me. That is 100% how I think.

I don't see plot. I see people. So, I don't see one clear direction, I see motion.

I see what the characters are doing, thinking, feeling which leads me (hopefully) to what caused it and what side of their story they feel most comfortable with sharing.

See? I'm learning.

Your blog has given me a way to reconnect to what I do (or did) naturally, but it's better.

It refines the way I think and gives me prompts for pushing myself to flesh out stories and plot in a way that doesn't cause a mental block.

You've given me a way to say, "Yes, I'm wired a little differently. Isn't it great?"

I admit, I might have gotten a little excited about what I read yesterday. I wrote 5K today as of about five minutes ago.

I can see the web of possibilities stretching out before me in so many different directions. I can't wait to sit down tomorrow and see which way the characters will decide to go. :D

deanna said...

Your comparison with a faith journey is awesome, Jodi. As individuals, we write, believe, etc., so it's going to look different for each of us. But we want to be mentored, and that's not bad, as you said, there's community and so on at the beginning. I have to let go, though, at some point, to others' individual instructions (scratching with which hand? good grief), because I'm finding my own instruction. It's great you're encouraging other writers to find theirs. :o)

Alice Audrey said...

Over the years in talking with authors it seems there are certain things many of us have in common. For instance, pantsers tend to go slower in the rough draft. Layering tends to make the process easier. Of course it isn't the same for everyone, but I think knowing how it has worked out for others helps us chose for ourselves how we want to deal with the huge mess that is novel writing.

Turning it into "rules" and peer pressure ticks me off, but I'll spare you the rant.

jodi said...

Hailey, you totally made me smile. I'm considered so far outside the box I'm not even considered cardboard enabled. :)

Thank you for reading through my blog. It's become sort of a snapshot of my progress over the years. Too much angst, maybe, but somewhere I go to talk and vent and stuff. And answer questions, because they make me think. I should make that my motto or something. "I need to think, or my brain will rot." I make soup for a living.


Deanna, I pray--if not every night, at least most nights and give thanks. Even for the bad stuff, which is a learning experience.

You're right. There comes a time when you need to let go, shut the closet door, and let faith lift you up. :)

Alice, you can't tell me anything I haven't been thinking recently. Although even the small complaint against the powers that be makes me nervous. *sigh*

Pretty sad when blogging (like that whole Dear Jane brouhaha?) can turn around and get you banned even as an associate member. :(

it's creating a nasty atmosphere out there.

Eva Gale said...

You know, I think, unfortunately, a writer is going to get trounced with the 'do this not that'--unless they have a command of the craft in the first place. You're coming in all light green and rosy cheeked and you don't have the wherewithal to know your own process let alone know when someone is feeding you a plate of WTF. It takes a few trips around the track to know when people are talking hoey to you.