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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » I feel a disturbance in the narrative force ...

   
Author Topic: I feel a disturbance in the narrative force ...
MattLeo
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as if millions of impressions suddenly cried out for description and were suddenly silenced...

I tend to go on critical jags, periods where I keep seeing a particular thing over and over again in manuscripts, even imaginative and nicely composed ones like the opening for Meredith's "Mage Storm" which I'm currently working through (it takes me about 2 days/5K words to crit a MS so, expect my response next week Meredith). I want to make it clear that these jags have nothing to do with the quality of the manuscripts I'm looking at, they're the kinds of things after I've noticed them seem to be everywhere, even in high quality published stories.

My current critical obsession is something I think of as "inside the head" vs. "outside the head" narration. It ties together several issues I've noted in the past, particularly "state-of-mind" words like "saw", "realized", "remembered" etc. that wrap action in a semantic bubble of opinion; these remove us from the POV character's POV and puts us in the narrator's POV looking at the character's state of mind.

Compare the following example:

A: He realized the man had a bloody knife in his hand.

B: The man had a bloody knife in his hand.

See the difference? B is told from what I call an "inside the head" standpoint relative to the POV character. A is "outside the head", a narrator x-raying the POV character's state of mind and reporting what he finds. "Inside the head" is more immediate and arresting in this case.

So are "state-of-mind" words and "outside the head" narration bad? No. Inside-the-head vs. outside-the-head is a technique choice you want to make consciously.

C: He reached out to shake the man's hand then realized there was a bloody knife clutched in it.

D: He remembered the bloody knife in the man's hand so he decided not to shake it.

E: I shiver at the memory of that bloody knife in his hand.

These are places where the POV character's state of mind is particularly relevant to his impressions or actions. In C the POV character experiences disorientation as his assumptions are overturned. In D his past experience influences his current behavior. "E" is a technique that should be used sparingly; the narrator is taking us even further out of the action, to the present day as he recounts the past. He is showing us that the bloody knife was so shocking that the memory alone is enough to scare him.

The in-the-head/out-of-the-head dichotomy subsumes many other writing issues, such as dialog tags. Now we all know that "said" is the most invisible word in the English language. I hope none of us are afraid of using it. But the reason it makes us a bit queasy, I think, is the suspicion that so many "saids" lying there on the page will draw the reader's attention to the narrative machinery of the story, and out of the story experience where it belongs. And in point of fact, the various techniques for avoiding tags (a topic for another post someday) tend to improve dialog.

The inside/outside dichotomy bears also on one thing that sets a lot of teeth on edge: adverbs in dialog tags:

F: "You'll never take me alive!" he exclaimed defiantly.

G: "You'll never take me alive," he said quietly.

H: "You'll never take me alive," he said with calm conviction.

See the difference here? In F, the most charitable thing you can say is that "defiantly" doesn't add anything; the attitude is carried by the dialog and choice of tag (which usually should be "said" but I'd make an allowance here). That's what you want in dialog, for the character's words to convey his attitude. "Defiantly" takes us out of the POV character's experience (especially if the POV character is speaking -- more on that later) and into the narrator's cooler, more disinterested standpoint. This is generally the case where a piece of narration states a conclusion, which is what I call a "hard sell". G is a different kettle of fish. It describes the physical characteristics of the utterance, and from contrasting that with his words we come to our own conclusions. We don't need the narrator to dump it in our laps, as he does in H, whose prepositional modification of the tag is a particularly obnoxious hard sell

Now a brief but important aside about describing POV character behavior:

I: My jaw dropped when I saw the man with the bloody knife in his hands.

J: My eyes popped wide with astonishment when I saw the man with the bloody knife in his hands.

Now by now we all can spot the state-of-mind word "saw" here, but maybe the author wants us to focus on his astonishment. Fair enough. But I have a problem with the narrator's jaw in example "I". I've been seeing a lot of jaws dropping in manuscripts recently, and confess to having dropped more than my share myself, and what I'm starting to wonder is, how does the narrator know his jaw is dropped? Is that what he is thinking about and focused on here? I want to stress this is not *wrong*, the way "J" is (it's first person narration and he has at least a chance of *feeling* his jaw but there's no way he sees his eyes). I think the problem with "I" is that it's subtly outside-the-head. We all know what it's like to see somebody else's jaw drop, or even to realize we're staring slack-jawed at something, but the moment of our own jaw dropping with astonishment is something we can't relate to.

Of course J also has "with astonishment", which is what I've long called the hard sell. A "hard sell" is telling a reader what to conclude about something, and is inherently outside-the-head. Consider this following infamously bad bit of dialog from the original Star Wars movie:

K: [Obi-wan speaking] I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Now in my head there's a picture of Harrison Ford rolling his eyes in response; I don't recall if that actually happened, but this is the kind of reaction the hard sell invites. Now I don't happen to think that this particular piece of dialog is so awful; if anybody knows what that would feel like it would be Obi-Wan, and I don't expect he could explain it to us. But when the narrator makes an assertion like this many readers would be inclined to doubt it unless the narrator can offer something more descriptive. In narration this kind of hard sell frequently takes the form of figurative language, particularly weak metaphors.

Figurative language (similes and metaphors) has a tendency to be out-of-the-head, as in this example from Raymond Chandler:

L: Then he picked the glass up and tasted it and sighed again and shook his head sideways with a half smile; the way a man does when you give him a drink and he needs it very badly and it is just right and the first swallow is like a peek into a cleaner, sunnier, brighter world.

Now I'd say this is good, but here's the funny thing about a hard-boiled private dick: he's detached. He's not just participating, there's a part of him that's held back and making judgments. That's the part that keeps his spark of integrity and principle alive as he moves through the dirty world. If your POV character isn't so hard-shelled, maybe a bookish small town minister who's suddenly been called on to solve a murder, he wouldn't think this way.

Now here's an original abomination of my own.

M:The bullets tore through his flesh like hungry dogs devouring raw meat.

A normal person in that situation wouldn't *think* that way, although maybe a hard-boiled dick might. So even if you *like* the above sentence, it's outside-the-head stuff offered up by a detached narrator. I've been seeing a lot of inanimate objects or even parts of the narrator's body taking on a figurative life of their own and performing (usually hostile) actions. It's all outside-the-head stuff and a lot of it is a hard sell.

I'd like to conclude that outside-the-head doesn't equal bad. It's often just what you want. But I think writing often slips into an outside-the-head perspective, particularly in early drafts, because that's the perspective the author is writing from. I often see scenes which are wonderfully immediate then lose that immediacy by an unconscious slip into a cooler, more distant perspective.


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Meredith
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By which I assume you've found some of those issues in MAGE STORM. Not surprised. I'm pretty sure Rell's jaw does drop at least once.
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MattLeo
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Meredith, I'm finding these issues *everywhere*. Mage Storm is pretty good, so I thought I'd work out my thinking on this topic so I can give you a critique that would reflect your manuscript rather than my current idée fixe.

I'll admit that Rell's jaw dropping inspired that bit, but as I say I've dropped more than my share of character jaws. But my current critical focus on inside-the-head vs. outside-the-head is making me view innocuous stuff like that through that particular filter. If it weren't jaw-dropping, it'd be something else.

Having a character's jaw drop isn't necessarily right or wrong, but it's the kind of thing that deserves a little thought. These things can get to be a little automatic ("surprise" == "jaw drop"), and from there it's only a short hop to having an annoying authorial tic. Have you noticed how often J.K. Rowling has Harry say something "dully"? Now I think she's a brilliant writer, but she's a little too fond of adverbs, particularly in dialog tags. I understand what she's getting at; Harry's going along but he's not very enthusiastic. I appreciate she's worked out the conflicting agendas in the dialog. But somehow I think her books would have been just a tiny bit better if she'd gone back through her draft and thought about replacing all those stray adverbs.


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enigmaticuser
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A very well thought out piece...though I have to admit the amount of words in your posts of late, scares me into skimming.

I find this a lot myself, often its a good place to find words that need to be cut. "Realized" "thought" "wondered" all good flags to look for, but as you said you have to differentiate when you're using the word out of some writing spasm and when you're wanting the reader to "notice" that he "realized."

This is really about how to write the most concise thought. Does the writer want to tell that he noticed the knife, then focus the camera there? Or does he simply not know what HE DOES want to point to and is simply pointing somewhere else?

A stray outside the head is exactly that, stray. It does not pull with the team through the story. So is the OTH telling part of the story or telling something outside the story? That seems to be the question.


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LDWriter2
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I think part of the reason of what your compliment is about has to do with establishing POV. B, in your first example, could be anyone but if we are in the head of only one character than A might sound better. Or at least sound like we know whose head we are in.


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MattLeo
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enigmaticuser -- Sure state-of-minds word like "realized" put us solidly outside-the-head, but it's not always so clear cut. It can also be a matter of degree, especially when figurative language is used. And it's not just about being concise.

Well-chosen figurative language is a very powerful and most especially concise way to describe something. But I think the cost of the conciseness is immediacy. A metaphorical description, unless so well-worn it is taken for granted ("stinging like a hornet" for example), has a tendency to take us out of the skin of the POV character, put us into a mindset of critical reasoning.

And it's not just a matter of shaky POV, as LDWriter2 suggests. Outside of the head description isn't so much a shift in POV, but a shift in how we express that POV. This is something more along the lines of the show vs. tell axis.

I'm thinking that beyond "telling" there's a state of narration that's even more immediate than ordinary telling, that is to "telling" as "telling" is to "showing". Of course most of us do break down and do a little telling now and then; and by analogy this hyper-telling space may not be a place we want to be all the time. But there may be places in the story where it's important to take the readers there. Places where we want a character's thoughts to pass into the mind of the reader like a hypnotic suggestion.

MacLuhan is famous for making a distinction between "cool" media and "hot" media. A hot medium is one that the reader can extract the experience with less effort. I'm thinking there are times when narration needs to be extra-hot.


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philocinemas
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I agree. Omitting filter words is what I have been working on most with my own writing. I do think it makes it much more immediate and less telling.

I am still partial to metaphors - I do think they often allow for more vivid imagery. Here is one of my recent ones:

- His crushed midsection and legs trailed behind him like inflatable tubes depleted of air.


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extrinsic
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MattLeo, danger, willrobinson, you're going into some airy realms there. I've been under their spell and their complications. You invoke narrative distance, participation mystique, free direct and free indirect thought and speech, discourse, and semtiotics and linguistics concepts of de dicto, de re, and de se meanings' many complex and ephemeral circumstances. It's a Riemannian manifold rabbit hole.

philocinemas, your example seems to me a simile, similar to a metaphor, but not quite.

Simile; My love is like a thorny rose.
Metaphor; My love is a thorny rose.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 06, 2011).]


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MattLeo
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Actually, extrinsic, I think this is really quite practical stuff, despite the fact that you might have been exposed to it in school. The trick is to have a practical application for an idea, rather than idly constructing theories of how the universe works. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced McLuhan's cool/hot media concept has very useful applications for a writer of fiction. It might give us a more specific things to work with than, "gee, this passage was a little boring," or "this passage was exciting, but I have no idea why."

To recap, a hot medium is data-dense; a cool medium is data-sparse. It's usually said that recipients have to work harder to extract meaning from a cool medium, but I think that's misleading. With a hot medium the recipients effort is focused on taking in all that data; with a cool medium it's focused on interpretation.

So let's borrow that idea for narration in fiction. Hot narration focuses the reader on processing details; cool narration focuses readers on constructing details in his mind. The "show not tell" rule warns us not to make the narration too cold. Clearly figurative language cools narration; the reader thinks a bit and his own mind supplies details using the metaphor as a guide. "State of mind" words like "realized" cool the narration; the reader constructs a picture of the POV character's psychological and physical reaction to the circumstances described.

How would you use this? Well, you might use cooler narration when you're conveying exposition and hotter narration when you've got the reader hooked on suspense. Look at how much detail a writer like Stephen King gives in a suspenseful scene where he knows he's got you where he wants you. I'm looking at one of my own opening scenes and seeing that it is alternately way too hot then way too cold. I need to ease the reader into story with more baby-bear porridge temps.

philocinemas -- I don't think figurative language is bad; you just ought to be more aware of the effects it has on pacing and mood.


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extrinsic
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Not in school, would that it were. Here, there, and elsewhere in bits and pieces.

Hot and cold media is as fine a conceptualization distinction method as any other for whatever you choose to call the opening of and closing in of a reading spell I know as a participation mystique's narrative distance or dramatic distance or psychic distance or some other term. Again, not terms from school. Participation mystique, through a follower of Tolkien's actually, but based on other cultural principles originally not related, per se, to literature. The other terms, from bits and pieces here, there, and elsewhere.

Hot and cold medias' implications are yours to master and apply as you deem best, but I understand fully what you're saying.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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extrinsic! Welcome back!
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philocinemas
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quote:
philocinemas, your example seems to me a simile, similar to a metaphor, but not quite.

Technically speaking, extrinsic, a simile is a form of metaphor - I was using the term in its most encompassing form. And welcome back.


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KayTi
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So I think it was last Nanowrimo or the year before when I realized somewhere around day 15 of the month that I didn't have to have my character OBVIOUSLY and DIRECTLY observe an event in order to report it in my third person-close narration. It's the difference between saying "I saw her move across the room." and "She moved across the room."

Subtle, stupid, but it's one of those things you find yourself doing when you're working on tight POV. Or at least I do.

I've recently finished my first first person POV novel-length work and it's so totally different it's quite funny. I still have my mc's stomach drop and mouth go dry and have her rub her hands down the front of her pants (sweaty palms) and the like, but it's much less likely that I'll feel the need to report the viewing of such, seeing as how the character is the actor in first person.

Thanks for the intro of the term "hard sell" - that's a good one to put in my list of "why is this passage bothering me? Something's not quite working" quirks.


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extrinsic
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Let's see, where to begin unraveling a tangled skein wrapping the edges of many complex writing concepts? Narrator mediation? Up close and intimately personal narrative distance between a reader as mystique participant or bystander and a text? So open and remote a supertanker sails between text and reader interactions? Figurative languages' strengths, weaknesses, purposes, intents, meanings?

The latter as a jumping off point. A metaphor awkward enough it cannot come from anywhere else but a viewpoint character's personal point of view, and with voice attitude; however, not so awkward a metaphor it's too disruptive or calls undue attention to itself. An example; Dallas shed beautifully silly tears when her guinea pig died. Tell, or recital, yes, but closing into Dallas' viewpoint by expressing intimately personal commentary (nobly self-effacing in the example): beautifully silly. And leaving the narrator's mediation behind.

Because the sentence slips away from the narrator's mediation, a subsequent causal-logical sentence might report by showing, or imitating, Dallas' immediate sensations and thoughts of the guinea pig funeral. Not mere sensory description. With attitude that expresses intangible but accessible emotional context (subtext), closing narrative distance up close and intimately personal. Rude sunshine drowned newly sprouted dogwood leaves and dripped into the pitiful hole Little Brother dug for Missy Guinea's shoebox casket. A bit forced. Okay. Yeah. Exaggerated for effect.

Didn't learn that in school neither; here and there and elsewhere in bits and pieces. It's been a long, hard poet's road to hoe.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 07, 2011).]


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MattLeo
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extrinsic -- I'd say both your examples are interesting because they achieve the same effect (narration putting reader awareness outside the POV's perception) but by different mechanisms:

A: Dallas shed beautifully silly tears when her guinea pig died.

B:Rude sunshine drowned newly sprouted dogwood leaves and dripped into the pitiful hole Little Brother dug for Missy Guinea's shoebox casket.

I'm assuming Dallas is the POV character here. "A" takes you outside her head by making an observation she's not really in a position to make; she can't see her own smile. Unless Dallas were an adult with a sufficiently histrionic temperament to think of herself in such terms (and Oh, Lordy! They do exist), this is an observation that is foreign to her perspective.

Where "A" takes you out of Dallas's head for semantic reasons, "B" does for stylistic reasons. I understand you exaggerated here for effect, but the exaggeration itself is worth studying. Now I *love* purple prose (remember my bullets tearing through POV character's flesh like hungry dogs?), but it calls attention to *itself* and of course the author, which is as far outside the POV character's head as you can get.

"A" gets interesting if Dallas is not the POV character; let's say it's her Aunt Emma's head we're in. If Emma is the kind of person much given to thinking in bad poetry, we might still be inside Emma's head. The narration might be perceived as "hot" because the reader wouldn't try to extract any meaning from her rococo observations; he'd say, "Well, that's just Emma." On the other hand, if Emma were the president of her local chapter of the League of Literalist Killjoys, we'd be scratching our heads wondering what kind of gymnastics a ray of sunshine would have to do to extract *that* observation from her. The narration would be ice-cold (oh, how I love that purple prose), and we'd be far outside of Emma's head.

I'd go a little further and say any kind of figurative language that a reader must decode, be it simile, metaphor or kenning, nearly always moves the reader a little bit outside the sensation experience of the POV character. That's not necessarily bad because a POV character's head is a nice place to visit but it's a tedious place to be trapped in. So it's something to be aware of rather than avoid all the time.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited September 07, 2011).]


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Nick T
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How Fiction works by James Woods has an excellent discussion of the tension between authorial voice and POV voice implicit in the use of 1st and close 3rd. Well worth reading.
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extrinsic
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Nick T, I closely read How Fiction Works. Strongly recommended read.

MattLeo, inside the head, outside the head. First person by default has the closest narrative distance because it can come from the inside. Second person reflexive's addresses to the self actually can close in closer, to the deeper dark recesses of the mind, but reader reading skills vary widely. Not all readers can appreciate second person reflexive.

Third person by default comes from outside the head, regardless of how close a narrative distance the narration is. Nonnarrated third person transfers first person for third person and absents a narrator almost entirely, a compromise made for the advantages of third person. First person narration can't, by definition, move away from the narrator much, if at all.

Each can be by turns hot and cold, from absolute zero cold to nuclear fusion hot and anywhere between extremes. What temperature any given part or parcel is, is a matter as much of writing skills as it is reading skills, reader sentiments, and life experiences a reader brings to the interaction. One reader's icy cold is another's smoking hot.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 07, 2011).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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I agree with extrinsic.

I love analyzing stuff as much as anyone, but the thing your analysis seems to be missing is the fact of reader preference and interpretation. I really personally appreciate the fact that you specifically state that neither of the various different states of narration you speak about (inside/outside the head, "hot/cold", "show/tell") are "good" or "bad" but I think a further factor into them is that different readers are going to have different ideas of what these things are and how they are achieved.

And indeed, many aren't going to care. The things being discussed here...until I came to Hatrack, I didn't as a reader really have any conception of them. As a reader, I am, with most types of stories, more concerned about the story that is to say, the content of the story, than with how it's told. There is stuff I read primarily for its style, but for narrative-focused stories I care more about the narrative than how it's put forth. Even now, as someone who has been writing and participating in writing-craft discussion and critique for years, I am still nearly oblivious to these things as a reader. For example, a few months ago I was reading China Mieville's "The Scar." At a couple of points in one chapter he switches, with no warning or break, from past to present tense. I was well into the present-tense section before I'd even realized the change. Now of course many will say that's because he's a skilled professional author and knows how to "do it right" (although I wonder what the reaction would be to the self-same thing done just as skillfully here by one of us) but it was largely because I simply wasn't paying attention.


These vagaries of interpretation, preference and regard are a large part of why I, for the most part write most of my stuff, in the end, to suit my own tastes and my vision of what's in my head. Because trying to please, or often even create a certain effect in "readers" is rarely going to work more than half the time.
That being said, I do sometimes target my writing to very specific readers or markets of whom I have knowledge that will let me, perhaps, more accurately judge what they want. The subjects under discussion here are of particular interest to me because the last short story I wrote, and upon which I'm still performing some editing, was written specifically toward the preferences of the editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. They have quite detailed guidelines and send out exclusively personalized rejections. Most of these rejections include talk about not being "in the head" enough. I wrote this last story in first-person, to help maintain that intra-headness (if you look, almost every story on BCS is first-person.) Another interesting thing though is on a couple of occasions this editor has admonished me about "showing" emotions through external physical actions or reactions. He prefers emotions be "told"--explicitly stated, rather than or along with being indicated. And from the perspective of trying to stay "in the head", using such physical reactions...or perhaps even dialogue...to convey emotion, while obeying the "show don't tell" "rule" does bring one out of the character's supposed "head."

Often, to achieve one thing (or follow a certain "rule") you find yourself having to "break" or interfere with another.


So like I said...analyzing things is great, understanding the mechanics of writing techniques is great. But let's try not to lose sight of story. I think we tend to worry too much, sometimes, about staying in a certain technique, following certain "rules", avoiding certain pitfalls etc, in and of themselves. To me, when one is in a situation of deciding how to write a certain thing, whether its creating a scene, expressing an emotion, conveying a specific piece of information to the reader or whatever, I think the main concern in the end should be what works best and is most fitting for the particular story and overall style or voice.


[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited September 07, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited September 07, 2011).]


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MattLeo
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Merlion-Emrys -- I believe you are really mistaken about what I am trying to do here.

I'm not talking about *theory* for its own sake. I'm talking about stuff that could make a practical difference to how you write (if you want it to). I am not talking about how to get your piece sold in some market; I'm talking about stuff you could use *even if you are writing only for yourself*.

This is stuff to *listen for* as you write, especially as you revise. What you do about it when you hear it is your affair. I certainly make no claim to having discovered some royal road to pleasing every reader, although if you discovered a technique that is guaranteed to please anything close to half of them, that would be a major discovery.

It is true that people latch onto a good idea, sometimes even a *very* good idea (like "show not tell") and then do damage to themselves and others by mindlessly applying it. I think of such ideas not so much as rules, but as *teachers*. It's smart to listen to what an experienced teacher says, but stupid to believe *everything* he says.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I'm not talking about *theory* for its own sake. I'm talking about stuff that could make a practical difference to how you write (if you want it to). I am not talking about how to get your piece sold in some market; I'm talking about stuff you could use *even if you are writing only for yourself*.


Ohh I do understand. Your talking about ways to achieve particular things, analyzing what does what and that sort of thing. And that's good. Although, by largely necessity it involves some generalization as to how "people" will percieve something, what will create a certain effect or reaction. So, I just wanted to include mention of the fact that the practical differences you are looking for may not always work and can in fact sometimes have opposite results.
That, and also, to insert a reminder that sometimes an intuitive, rather than analytical approach can be good. I do enjoy analyze how and why things have the effects they do. However, I can usually tell, intuitively, what does or doesn't have those effects and/or figure out how to achieve them.

And I'm not just addressing you directly; even if it doesn't for you, the analysis you speak of tends to lead, for some, into that "rules dominated" type of thinking or sometimes into a near-paralytic over-analysis. I'm not disagreeing with or attempting to negate what you're saying...I'm just adding additional stuff too it.
When I say I write for myself, I don't mean either that I don't intend others to read what I write or to try and market it. What I mean, really, is that I am the only yardstick I know for sure about. Analysis of technique is generally trying to figure out how to achieve certain things, but in the end you can only know for sure your own reaction to a thing, or those that are shared with you by others.

I guess the upshot of it is, I want people to understand that no matter how much effort you put into figuring out how to do this or that, sometimes it isn't going to suceed, and that isn't because you went about it the wrong way or didn't work hard enough at it.


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Corky
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So do we have some kind of spectrum here, with purely intuitive (if I have to think about what I'm doing, I won't be able to do it) writing at one end and purely analytical (if I haven't figured out exactly what I'm doing, I won't be able to do it) writing at the other end?

Or more along the lines of pure storytelling (what I say is more important than how I say it) at one end and pure wordsmithing (how I say it is so important, it doesn't matter whether I say something or not) at the other end?

Or both?

And learning where we are on the spectrum(s), or learning more about the places where we aren't, but might want to be, on the spectrum(s)?

[This message has been edited by Corky (edited September 07, 2011).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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I'd say "or both" Corky, and I'd say that while your spectrum idea is probably quite true and very interesting, where one is on said spectrum is another of those things I'd maybe say not to worry too awfully much about.

I'd say it also depends a lot on story types, and the parts of stories too. I'm more likely to be more analytical, in a way or to some extent, when it comes to narrative structure and I'm very analytical, you could say, about certain aspects of worldbuilding, especially magic systems in fantasy. I'm less inclined to analyze style and voice, the things that are, in my view, the children of what's usually discussed as "craft", "wordsmithing" and otherwise known as the technical side of writing.

There's a lot of stuff I read largely for atmosphere, for the feeling it evokes and the imagery it creates. These things are more closely tied to the author's voice and writing style, and slightly less tied to subject matter, in a way, than how I approach more narrative-focused stories.


Lately, when I write, I tend to want to plan out the plot of the story pretty well beforehand, which I consider an analytical thing. The style and voice however, while it is something I consciously think about to an extent, is still done largely intuitively or at least non-analytically. I know how I want it to sound and feel, but, generally, I decide how to make it that way/figure out if it is or isn't that way based on simply looking at it and figuring out if it does or not, rather than trying to analyze what words, sentence structures, or types of language do or don't lead to this or that...mostly because I feel those things vary too much.


Also, I think the analytical/intuitive and/or storytelling/wordcraft spectrums are linked to many other things and I also believe there are ties to many of these things and the genres people read and/or write. I've noticed folks that read/write a lot more sci fi than fantasy, for example, tend to be more focused on technical details both in terms of the prose and what's happening in the story.

Its all very interesting.


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MattLeo
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Corky --

Critical thought doesn't kill intuition, as long as you don't try to be intuitive and analytical at the same time. You can write intuitively, examine what you've produced critically, and take what you learn and revise intuitively.

I'm sure there's a continuum of writers from technique oriented to seat-of-the-pants, but it doesn't matter. No matter where you are you can strengthen either faculty, analytical thought or intuition, without killing the other. They should work together.

What you can't do with intuition is have critical thought peeking over its shoulder all the time and censoring it as it works. But having to respond to criticism doesn't hurt it. Being thrown into a cage now and then is good for intuition; it challenges intuition to do its job and come up with something new.


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philocinemas
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For me, this has been the most valuable discussion on this site for quite some time, simply because it goes beyond the typical 'how do you do this or that' question. Not that I'm above all that, but most of those types of posts pop-up every six months or so and become somewhat redundant.

One of the most common tendencies I have seen in young writers, of which I would include myself, has been the use of what Nick once described to me as "filter words".

Young writers have a tendency to TELL when and how the MC 'looks' at or 'thinks' about something. We often use other, more mature words, but all it really boils down to is these same two words. They are words we use often in regular speech, so often that they creep into our prose. They become, in our writing, an extension of 'said'. However, though they are invisible to us, and often to the average reader, I believe (think) they are glaring warning lights to more discerning readers, i.e. editors.

This isn't about changing how we write just so we can get published, either. It is about presenting the MC's viewpoint or thoughts without saying 'he looked over there' or 'his eyes rested upon her glowing face'. However you want to word it, it is all the same - what we are doing is spending more time focusing on what the MC is doing than entering within his/her POV. Likewise, the word 'thought' or any derivative is not the same as 'said'. Narration by its nature is already thought - we don't need to explain that. When people talk about showing versus telling, I believe this is one of several types of 'telling'.


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