Sunday, May 21, 2017

To carry on about editing "Snaked," and to procrastinate a little more from real writing, Dave said this:

Narrative writing is so not like programming.

Clever = convoluted.
Obscure = confusing.
Nuanced = vague and misleading.
All things you do not want your code to be, which in general is: drop-dead-obvious. 

I'm not sure you give enough credit to the analogy, especially in genre, plot-heavy fiction. In other words, you can be both, I think. Streamlining, removing redundancy, condensing, etc. All that helps a book. I think the structure needs to be thought out, even if in a intuitive way.

With your speed of production I wonder if more time spent designing, rough outlining, sampling the story in a broad context might not be a way to test a story before it's written.

With every book, I try. Nowadays, I do tend to have an overall story-arc in mind, a theme, a cast of characters and a locale.

But I seem to find my story by writing it. I can't seem to find it from the outside, as it were. I learn by doing. So for instance with "Deadfall Ridge" I realized that I waited too long to get to the action, that the action must be immediate and never let up. Of course, this is true of all genre fiction, but in thrillers it becomes much more noticeable.

But yeah, "designing, rough outlining" would be a huge help, if I could do it. I try a little harder each time. More thought before I start a book, more thought before each chapter.

I heard someone use the phrase, in describing a book that had a thin plot, "not enough paint to cover the walls."

Nowadays, I try to make sure I have enough paint.


Dave Cline said...

I wonder... (sorry, I can't seem to get into my narrative mood yet either)

And I do mean wonder here -- I have no idea what I'm talking about -- but...

Could there be a generality applied, that, story discovery while writing (which I can fully identify with) produces more literary works as opposed to mainstream fictions.

I haven't read much literary fiction, but what I have read seems to often just meander around a plot line, which tend to be short(the plot not the story) and people oriented. While MSF generally follows a narrower, direct plot line, (or multiple direct plots), but are doggedly adhered to, are often longer in scope (more stuff in them), and are more broadly focused (end of mankind, space colonization, a long sweeping journey, or the multi-generation story of a peoples or family).

If you meander along the path while writing, you can discover the story as you go. You have no particular end point you want to arrive at, nor do you have any agenda to sell.

On the other hand, if you have to get somewhere: a goal or destination, and it's going to take you years and chapters, and you have specific stops you need to take or ideals you need to have the reader accept and understand -- you need to plan your trip, your story.

Of course I wouldn't think that there are hard-fast demarcations here. Just suppositions I'm proposing as thought bubbles.

Dave Cline said...

This horse deserves a few more lashes...

Writing vs Programming.

There are most definitely aspects of writing which are found in programming, primarily in the realm of planning, organization, the aforementioned refactoring, modularization, and tree type hierarchy.

It is in the actual writing where I believe the two diverge dramatically. Not being a writer per se (yet), I can really only speak to how I find programming to not be like writing I've thus far experienced.

When writing code one needs to be obvious. Overstating is a must. Verbosity is better than terseness. References need to be overt and direct. Better to err on the side of too much explanation and blunt dull names than cryptic signs and clever names and obscure tricks. The single most important task in coding (aside from writing code that first of all -- works) is to write it so anyone can come along (usually yourself in about six months or a year) and immediately understand its intent.

From what little narrative writing I've done so far, this is not how I try to approach it. I try to be clear yes, but never direct. Rather than instruct, I want to gently guide, nudge, infer. In code I would report the intent and the expected outcome. In narrative I would (try at least) to show, hint or present the situation or events and never just explain them. I'd want to nurture the reader into deriving the meaning from the story themselves, rather, as in code, to be told the meaning.

I think that has been my immediate issue when I started writing. I approached it like coding: like a technical specification (of which I've written hundreds).

Duncan McGeary said...

Clear writing is good writing. What you have in your head isn't what always ends up on the page, so however you can get it across, that's what you need to do. Vonnegut says: if something needs to be said, say it. (Vonnegut's Rule #8, sorta...)

Clarity of nuance, if you will.

You may think you are being clever, but you may only be obscure. A insight doesn't need to be buried under cleverness.

So many times at writer's group, someone will write a passage that doesn't make sense. "What does that mean?" I ask.

The writer then proceeds to tell me verbally exactly what they mean, and it almost always much better than what they put on the page.

Now--telling people how they should feel is something different. If the actions and words are clear, then they should evoke the emotion you're shooting for. But the showing must be clear.

I also think clever writing is often distracting. The more I write, the more I believe writing is about story, and if the story is good, the clearer you can tell it, the better.

Artistic flourishes come naturally, feel part of the story.

The thing I'm trying to learn now is to eliminate everything that doesn't show character or advance the story. (Vonnegut Rule #4). Straightforward, here is what happened.

Dave Cline said...

A serendipitous moment. Got this from a meetup email today:

"Great short stories and great jokes have a lot in common. Both depend on what communication-theorists sometimes call “exformation,” which is a certain quantity of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient. – David Foster Wallace "

In code you would want no exformation, nothing implied, everything explicit. I think that's what I was trying to get at.