What responsibility, if any, does a writer have to society?
This was the question I posted to the message board of the writer’s group I run to be the discussion topic for our next meeting.
I knew at the time of writing it that it was a provocative question – one that different people might interpret in different ways. Regardless, I was sure it would result in a lively, interesting discussion as my writer’s group meetings always are.
What I didn’t expect, however, was the overwrought response on the message board from an out-of-nowhere, aggrieved and impassioned troll.
Story beginnings are tough; even I can recognize that.
When I’m getting ready to start a new writing project, I spend a lot of time developing and getting to know the main character. One of the things I do is write a character monologue to help get a sense of his/her voice.
With my WIP, I had the brilliant idea to include this monologue as the novel’s opening – a decision for which members of my writing group rightly called me out when I read it to them. Comments included,
“I was bored.”
“There was no action; it was just a bunch of information that didn’t mean anything to me yet.”
“I found it rather poignant.”
(I think I fell in love a bit with the guy who said that last one. However he was already taken, plus he eventually quit writing and gave up the group, which suggests he didn’t really know enough about writing craft to give me proper advice.)
Earlier this year, I met a writer who was also an actor, from whom I received some interesting writing advice.
It happened during a session of the writers’ group that I run. At each meeting, we discuss a specific writing-related question that all attendees are given a chance to answer.
The question du jour inquired which element of writing craft folk felt they needed to learn more about.
When it came my turn to answer, I said character voice.
Specifically, the fact that I wanted to someday write a sequel to my WIP from the first person point of view of a different character, but was unsure how to make the voice distinct from the first person narrator of my WIP.
It sucks to be three out of four of these guys. (The Bayeux Tapestry, 11th Century.)
I never set out to write a historical fiction novel.
If you go back far enough, it can be argued I never set out to write a novel period, for I never believed I’d be able to sustain a story for that length.
But once it did occur to me that I had a novel-length tale to tell, I didn’t expect for it to be a historical one.
As a result of this lack of foresight, the way I’ve gone about writing this novel (technically novels, for there’s two of them; so much for not thinking I could sustain a long story) is definitely not something I’d recommend.
There’s no one right way to write a novel, but what I’ve done may well be the one wrong way to write HF. Don’t believe me? Behold my list of what NOT to do, all of which I did, to my detriment.
Eric John Baker (R) and me, clearly hoping to win this thing by sheer force of smugness.
Only two approaches to writing exist: Good and Bad. Write good. Debate over!
Hold on a sec. That’s not what this post is about. This post is a point-counterpoint between two WordPress bloggers arguing the merits of two distinct writing methods, pantsing (freeform writing) and plotting (writing from an outline).
Read on as right-brained, right-coast writer Eric John Baker argues in favor of pantsing (at least we hope that’s what happens… he is making it up as he goes, after all), followed by left-brained, left-coast writer Janna G. Noelle making a case for plotting, probably with all kinds of charts and graphs and stuff.
No matter how ugly and violent it gets, they promise to return you home in time for tea and biscuits!
Every story, by definition, contains suspense in one form or another.
The most common form is the Predictable-Yet-Still-Desirable (from pt. 1), wherein the reader/viewer already has a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen before it happens, but wants to see it anyway.
This may be either to feel the satisfaction of having been correct in his/her predictions, to see exactly how it happens, or to be already emotionally prepared to vicariously undergo a universal human experience.
Somewhat less common is a second form of suspense, which, ironically, is probably the form that more readily comes to mind when one hears the word “suspense”: the unpredictable-and-thus-unputdownable, which keeps the reader glued to the book, and still reading long after s/he should have gone to bed.
All stories by their very nature contain the precursors of this type of suspense. How could they not? Stories come to us described by blurbs designed to hint at the plot and its major turning points, but ultimately give nothing away.
They’re the very definition of suspense, for who knows what might happen between the lines of that enticing paragraph on the back of the book or DVD case?
Unlike my fully realized feelings on Movember, DST, and my birthday, I’ve yet to work out how I feel about National Novel Writing Month.
For one thing, I’ve never done it. Nor am I doing it this year. Nor am I even sure I want to someday.
Let me re-phrase that last thought: I feel like I do want to do it someday, but I’m not sure if that’s because I relish the challenge it offers or because I feel like I should want to since it’s such a renowned event in the writing community.
Suspense, as a concept, is something I’m pretty sure all writers comprehend.
“A state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen.” (Source: Google.)
After all, most writers begin their journey as a reader, and most readers love the thrill of a story unfolding – of experiencing every reversal and triumph that befall the characters as the plot moves along its way toward an as-yet unforeseen conclusion.
True, some readers do read the very last page of the book first – perhaps to ensure the story will have a happy ending. However a last page really doesn’t convey much when taken out of context of all that comes before it, so even such a reader will be forced to weather the ebbs and flows of a storyline in the sequence in which they occur.
As a reader myself, however, it occurred to me recently that there are actually two types of suspense in storytelling. Taken in turn, each type produces the following reaction in my head:
(L-R): Nyima Funk, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady from the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?
Out of all the different types of artistic expression, the artists I seem to befriend most often are actors.
I’m not really sure why this is, for I’m sure as hell no actor. I have no poker face whatsoever, let alone the ability to re-create a given emotion at will, and body movements range from woodenly awkward to determinedly abrupt.
As well, the mechanics and semiotics of acting are largely lost upon me. I can’t really distinguish a “good” performance from a “spectacular” one, and when I watch movies or plays, so long as the story obeys its own internal logic and follows a satisfying story arc, that’s good enough for me.
I’m a writer; I’m far less interested in the performance of a story than I am in the creation of that’s story’s script.
And yet, as different as my actor friends and their art seems to be from me and mine, I’ve come to discover the usefulness one particular actor’s tool can have for writers.