Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dem Bones

My poor new writing project. I've stretched its neck across the chopping block three, maybe four times now, getting about two-thirds of the way through each iteration before realizing just how fatally deformed it is. So out comes the ax, and I get to watch the project twitch all over the front lawn for a while before shaking my head and fetching fresh scratch paper.

Recently a friend and I discussed just what we believed caused such bad writing. I
shared a few pet theories, and he came up with the idea that pieces fail because of poor thinking. He argued that if we don't carefully consider the implications of what we're putting down, neglecting to craft a coherent structure, then we shouldn't be surprised when the narrative collapses under its own weight.

A lack of this sort of framework has certainly doomed my most recent attempts. And I don't think it has been because of problems with plot, which is what most people think of when terms such as “structure” or “framework” get bandied about. I know where I want the story to go. But problems with the speculative element or a missing piece of the background or some such thing always pop up at a crucial point. It's the convergence of fundamentals that I need, the barest meeting of plot and character, setting and theme at critical junctures. Those parts have to be straight and true before the creative weight piles on. I've got to build dem bones.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


Ben Mann said...

I have formed the opinion that getting this right the first time largely comes with practise.

Me, I rarely get it right the first time; I'll draft a plot structure and some story arcs, write it, and then stare at the horrible train wreck that eventuated and try and will it back into shape. Hopefully with enough repetition of this drudgery I'll start getting it right the fist time.

But in the meantime, for all the effort it is immensely rewarding to put a piece of the puzzle in place and see the story suddenly transform into a picture rather than the mismatched pieces it had been.

Loren Eaton said...

Doesn't it feel great when everything comes together? That's one of the reasons I keep on doing this crazy writing thing. I wish it came a little quicker sometimes, but I suppose the struggle makes us appreciate it a bit more.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My constant mistake is making my protagonist someone you root against. I do it over and over.

Loren Eaton said...

Don't you think that can work if the main character has some fatal flaw (a la classical tragedy)? I've read pieces like that which I've thoroughly enjoyed.

Scattercat said...

Sometimes you have a character without a story. Sometimes you have a story without a character. Sometimes all you have is a striking image without either plot or character.

In all situations, I find, the best thing to do is put it back to simmer a while until you find the right parsnip to drop in.

Loren Eaton said...

The worst part is when you've been laboring for ages and you realize you've only got thin broth.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Great post, Loren! I think it's so important to get the skeleton right for a story. Unfortunately, I can never shape it right until I've filled everything else in and it falls apart, then I build it back up from there about 8 times. I think these things get better with practice, as Ben says.

Loren Eaton said...

Man, I hope they do. I'm on draft seven of My Personal Vietnam (aka my current story), and I'm hoping this one's a little more on track.