<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Sunday, August 01, 2004
Sunday Morning Structure Ramble

I discovered Michelle West/Michelle Sagara's livejournal this morning, and am having a fine time reading through her two+ months of entries. Reading Michelle's LJ is very much like listening to Michelle talk--which is a good thing. I almost feel as if I'm in Bakka.

There is a part in this entry (and its comments) in which she talks about the process of writing and revision. Michelle's process seems to be similar to mine in that if something is not working right its better to throw it out and do it again properly than do a massive revision. Though I have never thrown out 600 pages of text to do this, as Michelle says that she has, I have thrown away the draft of a novella that was about 90% completed when I realized that the tone was off. I tend to write and throw away more words of a short story than are ever in the story's final draft--and yet the final draft rarely requires massive revisions, simply because that time I was writing it I actually got it right.

Michelle also asks the question: Do people feel that the knowledge gained from the making of charts, graphs, and pointed observations about the work of other people become so much a part of your own writing process that it's useful?

My answer: yes and no. The examination and process of understanding why another writer's piece does or does not work is absolutely useful, even if the technique/structure/characterization/etc. is one that I will never use myself, for good or ill. Understanding is not a waste. Yet making charts and graphs? No, never. I've never even tried.

For those of you who are Meyers-Briggs conversant--as everyone is becoming in my office, out of necessity--the making of charts and graphs and huge outlines, et cetera, seems like a very "sensing" thing to do. Its focuses on the details and specifics above the generalities and overall feeling/concept of the thing. I am, apparently, an "intuiting" sort of person--and this is true in that while I'm all about precise details in my prose, my knowledge and process of creation is all about the overall feel and shape of the thing. (Which isn't to say that I don't outline before writing; I've always known the ending and much of the middle of any story I've told that's been worth telling. If I don't know where its going, then the story's not ready to write.)

I have a map of Rise and Wake, for exapmle (with an aching empty spot where I know Drift was), that is all wrong. I sketched it a year ago, and made Wake too small, and forgot the little lake in the centre of its landmass, and Rise is just off, with the town of Precipice in a claw instead of a bay and the town of Lee in the wrong place entirely. But I know that the map is wrong, and when I look at it I know what it would have too look like for it to be right, and so there's no driving need to change it.

This also touches on something that I first realized when reading The Speed of Dark. There is a lot of talk in that book about patterns and the shape of things. And in one of these descriptions--I don't know which, and I wish I did--it occurred to me that this was very much on par with how I experience story structure. As a shape and a pattern and a feeling, all of which truly have no words. For me, the process of critiquing my work or others' is a process of pulling back from the story until I can see it in its entirety. Or, as I tend to say, until I can "hold it in my hands."

This is the reason that I cannot talk at all coherently about a movie after I've watched it--at least, if its a movie that has any sort of substance and/or involved me in any intellectual or emotional way (other than boring me to numbness). I need to disentangle myself from the story and literally push it away until I can hold the whole thing in my hands. Until I can see its full shape. Until I can turn and twist it to see from different angles, to see what wobbles and what's weak and what sticks out strangely when it should be smooth.

(Sometimes the hardest part when writing a critique for someone else is figuring out quite how to articulate how and why something is wrong. I know that this bit is too long, or this bit rushes by too quickly, but somehow I doubt that the phrase "it wobbles" will much inspire anyone else to see from my point of view.)

Which, of course, also explains why a story that works well structurally--a story whose pacing and scene construction and the juxtaposition of character and event is all spot on--is so amazing. Like a perfect sculpture, it's beautiful.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 11:42 AM


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