Thursday, August 14, 2008

Following that elephant around

I'm taking an online fiction writing class and I'm beginning to think that my dead brain cells count is much higher than previously thought.  The format for our class is:   write 2500 words, submit them to the class where a critique is provided on all the usual elements of writing and then it's off to try and absorb the high points of the discussion to make the passage better.  

The story that I'm working on (and submitting for class) is a time travel, with a heavy element of fantasy but no demons or werewolves.  I have the plot outlined where it makes sense, there are no holes that I can see so far and I'm keeping all of the characters' goals, motivation and conflicts in mind.  So when the instructor or my classmates ask a question about my passage that I know is or will be answered in time, I don't panic.  It actually makes me feel that I've built up the suspense for that passage properly so that it's the logical question in the reader's mind.  I want them to keep reading, you know.  

But here's my torment about my class.  I'm not getting slammed for the writing--style or voice or my overly long, Dylan Thomas-esque sentences.  I'm getting hammered because I am too stupid to put a comma in the right place and my paragraphing stinks.  I'm sure that has become apparent from the way this post is blocked, so hopefully you can see my problem and sympathize with my pain.  

Well, it's off to Borders to buy Eat, Shoots and Leaves and to look for my copy of the Elements of Style.


Lethe said...

I am a writer and here is a passage which inspired me last night. Like you, I'm preoccupied with style and technique (and I've been writing for years).

"The art of writing is very much broader than the art of writing itself, or of the writing technique. In fact, it would be helpful to a beginner who aspires to be a writer first to dispel in him any over-concern with the technique of writing, and tell him to stop trifling with such superficial matters and get down to the depths of his soul, to the end of developing a genuine literary personality as the foundation of all authorship."

What Lin Yutang is saying here, as I understand it, is that the technique will take care of itself. All that is important, though easier said than done, is to get down your thoughts. Because really what a reader feels in a writer's words is the personality or character behind the writing. If only I knew this earlier, that my style is not so important as my ideas, that my words are not so important as my character. Ironically, then, writing has less to do with writing and everything to do with who I am in my life. Because it all comes through my writing.

Pamala Knight said...

Wow, thanks for that lethe. I know that I should concentrate on the writing, but I'm still nervous that if I can't make the formatting somewhat sensible, how will I ever get my point across?

But Lin Yutang makes a good deal of sense in his advice and I'll try to heed it. Thanks again for commenting and leaving the encouragement. Stop by again.

Marilyn Brant said...

Oooh, Lethe said that beautifully! And, while I wouldn't ignore commas and paragraphing completely, I don't think that's really what writing is about either. I'd agree that it's much, MUCH more about the writer--who that person is, how that person sees and perceives, why that person is motivated to tell the tale she has to tell. The rest is just mechanics, which can be picked up or remembered with the help of some standard text (like the ones you mentioned), but I think the reason mechanics are so often focused on is simply because it's easier to do so than to delve into "voice" or "style" or some element of writing that more personal and harder to pinpoint. Don't let niggles like that sway you from what's important...