1.26.2017

Writing about Writing

Support is so important to a writer. Whether you are part of a writing group, taking a writing class, or espousing new ideas to a partner, you gain valuable insights either from others or from eureka moments while talking out a problem. The experiences feel so uplifting, it’s no surprise that such sessions appear to be good source material for your novel.

Craaaaannkk! The editor jams on the buzzer, waves his arms wildly. No! No, that isn’t a good idea. After such an obstreperous reaction, you have the right to ask: why not? The people in the writing group are all ears. The writing teacher loves classroom discussions. As for my husband, well, maybe he isn’t all ears all the time, but he enjoys talking about the book.

Discussion of writing belongs to the province of: you had to be there. Such environments encourage secondhand commentary. But that sort of material seems like remote storytelling in a novel. You’re trying to put the reader in a lead character’s shoes. The words you put on the page cast a spell. Yet the case holding your fictional world is made of gossamer. It is easily broken by the intrusion of commenting voices.

You also need to consider: what is the end result of such a discussion? Did the writer then go and change a sentence? A paragraph? Even a scene? Let’s go further and ask: what sort of plot stake is that? It hardly amounts to love and death in the American novel. It’s just a piece of somebody’s made-up stuff. Don’t get me wrong: I love a carefully constructed sentence. But I don’t pretend it’s a bloody knife.

Probably the worst aspect is: it’s tedious to read about other people writing. The same goes for people commenting about writing. Even if you develop characters over the course of repeated scenes, they will remain on that same arid plateau. Talk, talk, talk. There’s nothing at stake. Even if the writer in the novel is being pilloried, he can go back home and write something else. It’s hard to get excited about an issue that can be changed in Scrivener.

Exercise: If you have a series of scenes that discuss a person’s writing, pick one character to focus on. Follow the same dictum you would with any plot line: the character starts at base Point A and progresses through changes to arrive at ending Point Z. Maybe she has a nervous breakdown, maybe she attacks an especially cruel classmate. But make it about flesh and blood, not an intellecutal abstraction.

“Readers are not sheep, and not every pen tempts them.”
― Vladimir Nabokov

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine








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