Writing while Studying Craft

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dios4vida
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Writing while Studying Craft

Post by dios4vida » July 9th, 2011, 12:23 pm

So I finally got myself a copy of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I know, I know, I should have read it eons ago. But better late than never, right? :) I'm about halfway through and have learned a lot. The sheer number of small tips to improve your craft in that book is astounding.

Anyways, I'm also 45,000 words into my current WIP. Just about the halfway point - where my plot is realized, I'm really starting to know my characters inside and out, and I'm getting a better idea of how to get to the ending I have planned. (I'm a bit of a pantser if you can't tell.) I want to try to push to get this first draft finished and revised before our planned get-together in Vegas next spring, and with how slowly I write normally that's a big task for me.

BUT! All of these amazing tips! The 45,000 words already written are begging to be edited and revised with this new knowledge. My beginning needs major work, and I can improve so much and make the start of this WIP so much stronger!

BUT! If I go back and rewrite what's already written, I won't be making much forward progress. I have a history of editing myself to death, rewriting the beginning of a novel seven times (I counted) before ever getting to the middle, let alone the end. If I go back and start rewriting now, I may not meet my deadline.

BUT! If I go back now, I can strengthen everything and get an even better idea of where exactly to take my characters! I can deepen the plot and raise the stakes and just make it all better!

BUT! BUT! BUT!

HELP!! I think I should push forward and get the whole story arc down before revising, but how do I do that? I open my document and get to the place I'm currently at but those earlier pages creep into my thoughts and cloud out where I should go. I end up sitting stagnant, fingers hovering over the keys, but my mind far, far away. Does anyone have any advice for me?

I never expected that learning about writing would make actually writing so hard. :(
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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polymath
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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by polymath » July 9th, 2011, 12:59 pm

The subtext, if you will, of Maass' writing on writing, which is a rhetoric topic according to library classifications, is how to establish and build rapport with readers. He doesn't name rapport out loud, but a careful examination of the major and minor points connects cogently and thematically to that interpretation. I have yet to read an informative and insightful rhetoric text that names its main theme. And I've read all of them I can get my hands on.

The only difference of opinion I have with Maass is his naming and not defining what he means by the term conflict. He makes a great effort to show what he means, but leaves that facet undefined. What he does get across is contrary to mainstream narrative theory. He means a clash of passionate wills, not what narrative theory defines conflict as, which is a diametrically opposing set of forces related to stakes and outcomes, like life or death, riches or rags, acceptance or rejection. What I know what conflict means in Maass' assessment is complication, bridging and/or the main dramatic complication that compels the main dramatic action. However, to each consensus their own meanings, so long as the meanings can be reasonably communicated.

Anyway, the tip I have to offer is related to the above. By now, dios4vida, you should have an idea of what the main dramatic complication is, and a clear understanding of the central theme. From those I suspect you are now able to work through to the final outcome of the main dramatic complication. Getting there is at this point more important than rewriting or revising what's already written. What you've learned from reading Maass can best be applied to what's to come for practice and mastery while the whole of Maass ferments in your subconscious mind. That's what's going on in your need to go back and rewrite. Let Maass percolate and get on with finishing. By the time you have finished the working draft you'll be ready to tackle a major rewrite.
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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by dios4vida » July 9th, 2011, 1:03 pm

polymath wrote:Anyway, the tip I have to offer is related to the above. By now, dios4vida, you should have an idea of what the main dramatic complication is, and a clear understanding of the central theme. From those I suspect you are now able to work through to the final outcome of the main dramatic complication. Getting there is at this point more important than rewriting or revising what's already written. What you've learned from reading Maass can best be applied to what's to come for practice and mastery while the whole of Maass ferments in your subconscious mind. That's what's going on in your need to go back and rewrite. Let Maass percolate and get on with finishing. By the time you have finished the working draft you'll be ready to tackle a major rewrite.
I knew I could count on you, polymath. Thanks. :)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by polymath » July 9th, 2011, 1:24 pm

You are most welcome, dios4vida.

And one thing I forgot to mention, writing while studying craft is both the hard way and the easy way. Hard because studying craft exposes shortcomings that delay output dreadfully. The easy way because studying craft improves the chances of eventual successful outcomes mightily.

Oh, and then there's voice. My experience from investigating writers' poet's journeys is they first acquire mechanical style mastery, then craft mastery, then voice mastery. Voice's central strength is attitude, be it a narrator's attitude toward a narrative's theme or topic or another attitude holder for today's reader and marketplace preferences, like a protagonist's or a viewpoint character's or another central character's.

A particularly artful narrative has two opposing attitude holders with clashing attitudes that come to some sort of accommodation for at least one of the parties. Jonathan Franzen's Freedom has two main attitude holders, Patty and Walter Berglund, and supporting attitude holders Dick Katz and Joey Berglund. But then again, Freedom isn't a young adult novel, which is perhaps ideally best having one central viewpoint character attitude holder and maybe one antagonist's conflicting or at least complicating attitude for best target reader rapport.
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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by Cookie » July 9th, 2011, 4:28 pm

Can't really help you, because I do this all the time myself. The poor ending of my novel is sad and neglected, while the beginning gets all the attention.

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by trixie » July 12th, 2011, 2:23 pm

dios4vida, I do this to myself all the time. I feel like I should take a break from writing and pick up one of the craft books on my shelf. Then I realize the millions of ways in which my story sucks and I can't bring myself to finish it because I know the front half needs so much work. Why go on when there's already so much to do?

I think Polymath is right (he usually is). Take some notes from Maass and let him compost in your brain for a while. In the meantime, work on the ending. At 45K in, you have an idea of where this is all going and the end game ahead. Get your story there. Your writing will already likely be stronger, better as a result of knowing what you know from Maass.

Then, when the story's done, go back and apply those notes and concepts to the overall work so you can carry it through from beginning to end.

Hang in there--you're not alone!

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by dios4vida » July 12th, 2011, 3:00 pm

Cookie, trixie, thanks so much!! It's nice to know I'm not the only one who does this. I'm taking everyone's advice and encouragement and pushing through to the end - let's hope I can get there soon!
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by Leila » July 12th, 2011, 3:43 pm

Brenda, I think you're in a great place right now; choice! Like so many things in life, writing is an both an opportunity to learn, integrate, consolidate and review as much as it is an enjoyable thing to do!

I'd second others suggestions and say keep going. You are going to continue to find little gems along the way which further illuminate your writing experience, and you don't want to lose your rhythm. If the plot is flowing for you, enjoy capturing it then, as polymath suggested, have at it in your first edit!

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by Leila » July 12th, 2011, 3:49 pm

polymath wrote: My experience from investigating writers' poet's journeys is they first acquire mechanical style mastery, then craft mastery, then voice mastery.
So very true. And perhaps craft and voice have a kind of loop effect over time, given their entwined natures. Polymath, I don't know if I've asked you this before but have you written, or have you ever considered writing your own book in the areas of craft and voice? Voice in particular actually because of how challenging it is?

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by polymath » July 12th, 2011, 4:59 pm

Leila wrote:
polymath wrote: My experience from investigating writers' poet's journeys is they first acquire mechanical style mastery, then craft mastery, then voice mastery.
So very true. And perhaps craft and voice have a kind of loop effect over time, given their entwined natures. Polymath, I don't know if I've asked you this before but have you written, or have you ever considered writing your own book in the areas of craft and voice? Voice in particular actually because of how challenging it is?
I've explored writing on writing deeply. Now that you mention it, there's not a lot of direction on voice that's accessible if even published. Some touch on the topic but nothing in depth I can speak to that's more than a kind of "I can't define what voice is, but I know it when I see it" glancing glimpse. I should note the most notorious user of a similar statement was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's theshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964.
Wikipedia: I know it when I see it. wrote:The phrase "I know it when I see it" is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.
Stewart wrote:I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
Anyway, I've conducted an in-depth investigation of voice's many parameters for my own benefit. Maybe I should share for writing self-improvement, fun, and profit and for other writers' benefits. Lots of writing on writing craft out there, not much on voice. Maybe the marketplace is ripe for a systematic discussion of voice as pertains to craft and discovering one's own voice. Hmm. Attitude, decorum, irony, basic rhetoric and linguistics and semiotics, to begin with. Hmm. It won't be this week that I get around to it.
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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by Leila » July 12th, 2011, 5:34 pm

polymath wrote:
Leila wrote:
polymath wrote: My experience from investigating writers' poet's journeys is they first acquire mechanical style mastery, then craft mastery, then voice mastery.
So very true. And perhaps craft and voice have a kind of loop effect over time, given their entwined natures. Polymath, I don't know if I've asked you this before but have you written, or have you ever considered writing your own book in the areas of craft and voice? Voice in particular actually because of how challenging it is?
I've explored writing on writing deeply. Now that you mention it, there's not a lot of direction on voice that's accessible if even published. Some touch on the topic but nothing in depth I can speak to that's more than a kind of "I can't define what voice is, but I know it when I see it" glancing glimpse. I should note the most notorious user of a similar statement was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's theshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964.
Wikipedia: I know it when I see it. wrote:The phrase "I know it when I see it" is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.
Stewart wrote:I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
Anyway, I've conducted an in-depth investigation of voice's many parameters for my own benefit. Maybe I should share for writing self-improvement, fun, and profit and for other writers' benefits. Lots of writing on writing craft out there, not much on voice. Maybe the marketplace is ripe for a systematic discussion of voice as pertains to craft and discovering one's own voice. Hmm. Attitude, decorum, irony, basic rhetoric and linguistics and semiotics, to begin with. Hmm. It won't be this week that I get around to it.
[/quote]
I've explored writing on writing deeply. Now that you mention it, there's not a lot of direction on voice that's accessible if even published. Some touch on the topic but nothing in depth I can speak to that's more than a kind of "I can't define what voice is, but I know it when I see it" glancing glimpse. I should note the most notorious user of a similar statement was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's theshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964.
Wikipedia: I know it when I see it. wrote:The phrase "I know it when I see it" is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.
Stewart wrote:I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
Anyway, I've conducted an in-depth investigation of voice's many parameters for my own benefit. Maybe I should share for writing self-improvement, fun, and profit and for other writers' benefits. Lots of writing on writing craft out there, not much on voice. Maybe the marketplace is ripe for a systematic discussion of voice as pertains to craft and discovering one's own voice. Hmm. Attitude, decorum, irony, basic rhetoric and linguistics and semiotics, to begin with. Hmm. It won't be this week that I get around to it.[/quote]

Well, I hope you do. Your contribution would be valuable to say the least. The main theme arising from the limited info I can (also) find on the subject seems to be writers should aim for a strong, distinctive voice. One which carries some authority and reveals the strength of a character's personality traits. I could be wrong though, that's just my summary. So how do you achieve that? After pondering this question, I can only suggest that voice is something intrinsic to the writer, something one has to develop from oneself. For me, that just means really walking with my character, knowing what makes them tick, what are their triggers, what are their soft spots etc. To convey real emotional depth from a voice perspective I have to really feel their reactions and understand why they would react a certain way. Does that sound way off base? Probably does, it's okay, I still consider myself a learner in this regard. But the other thing I'd say about voice is that if you focus too heavily on it you have the potential to actually lose the connection with your character in the heart space and get stuck in a mind trap that's hard to escape. I know that sounds vague, but really, the voice, as such, should be a natural 'fit' with your character, not something contrived or wooden. Anyway, that's my basic assessment on a hugely complex subject.

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by polymath » July 12th, 2011, 6:05 pm

Leila wrote:Well, I hope you do. Your contribution would be valuable to say the least. The main theme arising from the limited info I can (also) find on the subject seems to be writers should aim for a strong, distinctive voice. One which carries some authority and reveals the strength of a character's personality traits. I could be wrong though, that's just my summary. So how do you achieve that? After pondering this question, I can only suggest that voice is something intrinsic to the writer, something one has to develop from oneself. For me, that just means really walking with my character, knowing what makes them tick, what are their triggers, what are their soft spots etc. To convey real emotional depth from a voice perspective I have to really feel their reactions and understand why they would react a certain way. Does that sound way off base? Probably does, it's okay, I still consider myself a learner in this regard. But the other thing I'd say about voice is that if you focus too heavily on it you have the potential to actually lose the connection with your character in the heart space and get stuck in a mind trap that's hard to escape. I know that sounds vague, but really, the voice, as such, should be a natural 'fit' with your character, not something contrived or wooden. Anyway, that's my basic assessment on a hugely complex subject.
You're on the trail. Attitude toward a theme is central to a strong voice. As an example of how an attitude can make or break a character, Mattie in the two movies True Grit, Kim Darby of the 1969 adaptation nails the moral righteously certain voice central to the leading part, though John Wayne's larger than life Boy Scout persona doesn't quite match the novel's Rooster Cogburn persona. Hailee Steinfeld's subtly sarcastic voice of the 2010 adaptation isn't quite as on point, though Jeff Bridges' reprise of the edgy Rooster Cogburn role is more artful than Wayne's. Differences in voices, some more artful, some less artful, on balance both adaptations about equal out.

I had a major breakthrough from studying the voices in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Walter's over the top environmental rhetoric. Patty's quiet reserve. Dick's cocksure devil may care attitude. Joey's emerging independence. None of which I agreed with and it threatened to disrupt my participation in the participation mystique. Getting a handle on those clashing voices and clashing with my belief systems meant coming to terms with respecting differing opinions and attitudes.

The ending was particularly amusing and profound as a consequence. Dick Katz is as close to a genuine villain as the novel has. He's Walter's best friend, best friend of the family, Patty's extracurricular love interest, a rogue and a scoundrel and a free spirit. Walter's environmental goal is saving wild song birds under stress from harmful human activities. Cats (Katz) prey(s) on song birds. Patty is metaphorically a flighty song bird. Rich.
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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by Leila » July 13th, 2011, 5:59 am

polymath wrote:
I had a major breakthrough from studying the voices in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Walter's over the top environmental rhetoric. Patty's quiet reserve. Dick's cocksure devil may care attitude. Joey's emerging independence. None of which I agreed with and it threatened to disrupt my participation in the participation mystique. Getting a handle on those clashing voices and clashing with my belief systems meant coming to terms with respecting differing opinions and attitudes.

The ending was particularly amusing and profound as a consequence. Dick Katz is as close to a genuine villain as the novel has. He's Walter's best friend, best friend of the family, Patty's extracurricular love interest, a rogue and a scoundrel and a free spirit. Walter's environmental goal is saving wild song birds under stress from harmful human activities. Cats (Katz) prey(s) on song birds. Patty is metaphorically a flighty song bird. Rich.
Okay, I feel a bit slow but I don't really understand what you mean. I read Freedom too. Quite a book. I understand your last paragraph. I understand how they could clash with your belief systems and how you have clearly worked to suspend the bias/judgements that arose for you, stemming from your values/morals/beliefs to respect difference. That, in itself is a marvellous thing.

What I don't understand is what you mean by clashing voices? How did they clash for you? Was it actually the voices that clashed or the values/attributes associated with each character? Or are you saying the two are so interconnected you can't separate them, or that one comes out through the other, i.e. voice? Or have I missed the point altogether?

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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by polymath » July 13th, 2011, 9:11 am

Leila wrote:What I don't understand is what you mean by clashing voices? How did they clash for you? Was it actually the voices that clashed or the values/attributes associated with each character? Or are you saying the two are so interconnected you can't separate them, or that one comes out through the other, i.e. voice? Or have I missed the point altogether?
All the above except I can separate them. Walter's voice confident and self-assured but so strong willed it's like he's convincing himself so he can move past his humble naivete and convince others of the righteousness of his causes, a situational irony. Patty's worldly and experienced voice and anything but, a situational irony. Dick's the one whose voice is genuinely confident and experienced but it doesn't matter to him, a little more tenuous but still a situational irony. He's made his place in the world and no one is going to shift him off it. Voice in the sense of character--personality, behaviors, and traits--based on values and mores and family upbringings.

Both Walter and Patty self-identifying with liberal values, though neither as liberal as they believe they are. Walter's liberal agendas yet conservative values. Patty a mild mannered conservative homemaker doing the proper thing as a sort of consolation life settling for what she's got and making the best she can of it until Joey takes up with Connie and her liberal and conservative ideals surge forward and clash hypocritically. By writing such strongly clashing, i.e., contrasting personas, and differently clashing in their internal personas they stand out from each other as individuals.

I feel the novel is about mid life crises for Walter and Patty. Dick doesn't face aging, though there's no great change in him, no final outcome. He's headed for a later life crisis. Joey's crisis is entrance into early adulthood with conservative values yet he confronts his liberal values. That they each confront and come to deal with freedom's pitfalls and obligations and privileges while negotiating their personal and public self-identity changes.
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Re: Writing while Studying Craft

Post by Leila » July 13th, 2011, 3:37 pm

Okay, got it now, finally. Thanks Polymath.

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