Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kinds of Writers

My last post stirred quite a debate regarding formula/form/structured plotting.

Eric/Redchurch from Quantum gave us his final thoughts on the matter:
I think part of it depends on how revolutionary or artistic you want to be.

I don't feel the need to reinvent the wheel. I just want to provide a story that's as entertaining as possible. To me that doesn't necessarily require re-invention. The aforementioned structures exist because they work.

For me that's good enough. I'd rather spend more time focusing on the branded and unique elements of my story than trying to significantly change the storytelling process itself.

I'm also not much Le Artiste. Art is not my concern. On one hand, I tend to think if you aim for that you're likely to fail. My other reason is that entertainment has more value than art to the casual reader. I'm approaching the craft from a pop/hit mentality.

They [readers] just want an entertaining story. So that's all I'm really concerned with. Admittedly short-sighted on the artistic front, but I'm not aiming for art.

That raises a question for all of you though. What are you aiming for?

Since Eric put the question to everybody, I thought it only appropriate to post it and see the response.

I'll be the first to answer. I aim for art. I don't delude myself in thinking that I can actually produce art, but I want my writing to be the best it can be.

As far as sales go - I do think that good art can sell but those in the mid-range, the ones striving for it, don't sell that much. At the same time, those who do follow proven formulae sell much better. Yes, as you said, Eric, they work.

By the way, I remember writing a post on the matter not too long ago - Idol Writing - Compromising your Artistic Integrity.

Categories: , ,

37 comments:

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

I think this all comes down to a fundamental humanistic view:

Do you believe in the innate beauty, ascendancy, and verve of the human nature?

Or do you accede the cynic and remain wary of the human element.

I do believe it is much like Sauron's One Ring: the human being can be used for so much good, but the darkness is undeniable. We must be careful not to value ourselves too much, especially in the artistic pursuit, or we will fall prey to great fallacy. This is preachy, I know. But I have yet to mention God, and I won't. (Woops, just did. That's it, I swear.) We are all wearing a One Ring. We are One Rings. It helps to be tested by fire, and to forego the illusion of power.

In this way I have a soft heart for the cynic. It's a place that must be travelled, then moved on from. There is much more to be found after lost innocence. Cynicism is a dead road leading to nowhere. But self-glory is a downhill road leading to ruin.

Georganna Hancock said...

I'm sooooo glad I have no literary aspirations. I just want to pay the utility bills, buy medicine, and keep my car. Excuse me if I don't wax poetic here, I just finished waxing the floor.

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

Ah, we're all waning anyway.

Deborah said...

Jonathan, that was a great analogy about the One Ring. How true! Ego is the biggest factor in our failures.

Eric, my aim is to write something that is not only original but saleable.

FredCQ said...

I am coming into this late so please be pateint with me ;)

I have read a lot of books on writing. I love to read them mostly because, when I'm interested in something, I want to know as much about that subject as possible. I have learned a lot of the basics of writing from these books (style, common mistakes and so forth). But one thing these books can't really tell you is how to write a story. All of these books concerning plot and structure are interesting to read but they don't really help me too much. I don't like over analyzing things so much that they get in the way of the writing.

I don't try to write art. Calling myself an artist always seemed a bit pretentious to me. I don't like the idea of giving a higher purpose to what I am doing. The only thing that I strive for when I write is to entertain myself and hopefully the reader. That's it.

That doesn't mean that I don't take the craft of writing very serious. I do. The act of writing to me is the artform, not what I'm producing. I don't take myself too serious as a writer, but I take the act of writing very serious.

If I'm not making any sense, please forgive me. It's 8:00am and I'm only on my first cup of tea!

Jennifer said...

To entertain and to write well. The two go hand in hand. No matter how entertaining a story might be, if it's not well written I won't bother to read (as an example of the last book I picked up...the concept really fascinated me, but I couldn't get past the second chapter because the writing is atrocious...and that's being nice).

I think part of the 'art' will come through (even unintentionally) with a well written story.

I focus on telling a story that will be captivating, intriguing and make the reader want more. If can do that I feel (on some level) I've succeeded.

Melly said...

Jonathan, do you mean something like the lesson learnt from Icarus's story. Don't fly too high and close to the sun or your wings will melt?
If that is your meaning, perhaps there's a point in that but throughout humanity's history people always aimed higher. I mean, if we don't aim for the stars, we won't reach them. And I mean it literally too ;)
I don't delude myself that my writing is artistic, but aiming for less, would be not doing my best, I think.
Some may aim to be a bestseller, the foremost authority on a subject (non-fiction), to entertain. These would all be fallacies then too, but if these are writers' goals, aiming for less would get them nowhere - no?


Goerganna, why thank you. A woman after my own heart! :)


Deborah, indeed, ego can be a big factor in failing, but one cannot not have any at all either, right? Putting ourselves down won't help us too much.
I'm laughing because I'm thinking of a query to an agent:
Dear agent,
My book isn't that original. The subject has been done countless times before, and the writing - well, I've read better.
You get my drift :) LOL

Aiming for originality is a great endeavor. I take my hat off!


Fred, patience? Moi? As if… :)
I like what you said: "I don't like over analyzing things so much that they get in the way of the writing." - About how I feel.
I also liked this: "The only thing that I strive for when I write is to entertain myself and hopefully the reader." - That's the best way to do it, IMHO. Only by enjoying the craft, one can make it better.
And finally this: "The act of writing to me is the artform, not what I'm producing. I don't take myself too serious as a writer, but I take the act of writing very serious." - You took the words out of my mouth. Yet I still hope that one day, perhaps in 100 years, I'll be able to accrue to the level of artist.


Jennifer, these are fine aims you got.
"I think part of the 'art' will come through (even unintentionally) with a well written story." - Oh, I sure hope so :)
And I absolutely agree with the rest!

Kathleen Bolton said...

I think most serious writers work hard at the craft and push their boundaries each time they go for the rewrite. Writing is like any artistic endeavor. But it's a fine line between pushing the envelope and writing an accessible story. Not everyone can be a Faulkner. I'd settle for being a Dan Brown.

redchurch said...

I think the core of this discussion comes down to creative freedom vs. creative challenge/restraint.

Writers aiming purely for entertainment are going to place more stock in creative challenges and restraint--things like plot, structure, tools of the craft/form.

Writers aiming for art are not going to value these things as much--the only thing they put on a pedestal is their own creative freedom.

For many writers, the horror of a blank screen/page is absolute creative freedom staring them in the face.

I'm not looking for freedom--I've had creative freedom since the day I was born. Everyone has creative freedom, by default.

I want challenges and restraints, filters, tools by which to make my work tighter and better.

The best way for me to get that is by standing on the shoulders of giants. There is a lot of great information out there if you're willing to give it a chance. That is why books on writing exist.

I feel there is no compromise of my integrity by doing this. I'm making myself a better writer by sacrificing a bit ego, freedom and instead focusing on pure entertainment value.

It's not about simply satisfying my whim or muse.

It's not about being self-indulgent.

It's about the story.

When I get my book out there for sale, people are going to be buying my story on its own merits--as a piece of entertainment.

They're NOT paying for my ego or sense of creative entitlement!

If the reader wants to experience pure, unadulterated, self-indulgent creative freedom they can put my novel down and hit up the art museums. :)

Melly said...

Kathleen, we feel the same about writing. I too see it as an artistic endeavour, and while I'm not a big fan of Dan Brown, I cannot argue with his success. Absolutely! :)

Eric, perhaps we differ even more fundamentally than that. We differ in our reading habits, and that makes us different in our writing goals. See, I do not seek entertainment when reading. I seek entertainment when watching TV, not from a book. Naturally, I want interest, but not necessarily entertainment. Beloved, for example, was difficult on the soul, not entertaining, but it was riveting and kept my interest. And of course, it is a fine fine book.
(I'm not comparing myself to Morrison, just gave an example of my reading habits).
Eric, I have no doubt your style lends itself to high sales. It's probably the eleventh time I'm repeating it. And that's fine. It's all good.

redchurch said...

Melly,

I love Lucas & Spielberg... who draw a lot from classic westerns-easterns (Sergio Leone to Akira Kurosawa) - which ironically draw from pulp detective writers Hammet & Chandler.

Some of my fav authors are low-grade sci-fi pulp... Philip K. Dick anyone?

Asimov, Alfred Bester. Michael Crichton, and Dan Brown too!

If you're not really into any of that stuff, then yeah... some fundamental differences. :)

My tastes do crossover from time to time, but mostly love action/mystery/thriller/sci-fi.

So yeah... you got me there. :)

redchurch said...

Mel,

One more note, and then I'll shut up. :)

You mentioned you don't necessarily read fiction for entertainment.

I don't always want entertainment either. In fact, that's the primary reason I read non-fiction!

I guess where you read non-entertainment fiction, I stick to non-fiction. So really we're sometimes looking for the same things, we just get it in different places!

And sorry if I'm overly willful on this whole topic--it's just something I'm fiercely passionate about. :)

Jennifer said...

May I just comment that this has been one of the more intriguing and interesting posts of late. I love reading everyones responses.

:D

Melly said...

Eric, really? You're passionate about this? I didn't notice ;)

And Jennifer, how dare you say such a thing? ;)
Thanks Jennifer and I agree, I also found this very interesting and refreshing. It had effects I didn't expect at all. We usually tend to surround ourselves with people who are like minded, so this was revealing and interesting to me.

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

Jonathan, do you mean something like the lesson learnt from Icarus's story. Don't fly too high and close to the sun or your wings will melt? If that is your meaning, perhaps there's a point in that but throughout humanity's history people always aimed higher. I mean, if we don't aim for the stars, we won't reach them. And I mean it literally too ;)

No, I do not mean that at all. I am instinctively suspect of the word "art" - it is a sneaky little particle that resists definition. (Refrain from the dictionary.com referrals, all.) When we get too abstract, it is easy to lose our practical truths. We must bring some understanding of the human condition when coming to bear against all things "art". Aiming high is the exclusive vocation of children, which we all are anyway - now there's a practical truth.

See, I do not seek entertainment when reading. I seek entertainment when watching TV, not from a book. Naturally, I want interest, but not necessarily entertainment.

My understanding of entertainment is that it is a method to banish boredom. When we have idle hands, or feel "dissatisfied", "hungry", we need something to occupy the space, the time, the container (us). Read this for a better explanation.

Benjamin Solah said...

I write stories I want to read. I write something I'm interested in, and in a way I find compelling. It's almost cheating and pretty fake if you guess what others want to read, rather than what interests you.

melly said...

Hear, hear! Benjamin. Indeed :)

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

I dito it all, Benjamin. However.

What if what other people want to read is your interest? Is that fake? That's a flat NO from me.

What if providing for your family requires you to research the best and most profitable way to achieve success? Now a myriad of professions do this all the time, so why should writing be any different?

Self-discovery is best actualized in the throes of survival, not in the indulgences of artistry, craft, or the pursuit of profundities.

Patry Francis said...

I want to write something true and deep, but I also want to tell a great story. A little of both, I guess.

Benjamin Solah said...

But I don't think writers are in it for the profit because your odds are a lot lower than most professions. I treat writing like art, and not business.

Melly said...

Patry, from you blog, you write art! You write stories that are all of the above - true, deep and great (no contradiction there, they're all important elements :)

Jonathan, if a writer can find a way to support her family doing what she likes doing, or compromising for the sake of support, no one ever it's a wrong thing to do. Quite the contrary. It's all good (I feel like I've been repeating this point about all goals being valid and important for the 100th time, forgive me).

Benjamin, I'm with you as I said before. I treat my fiction as art. My non-fiction, now that's a different story and I treat that as business.

Jennifer said...

See, I do not seek entertainment when reading. I seek entertainment when watching TV, not from a book. Naturally, I want interest, but not necessarily entertainment.

Okay I felt compelled to add a few more of my thoughts. Do you REALLY not find or seek entertainment in a book? And how do you define the difference between entertainment and interest?

To me interest usually leads to 'being entertained'. Let me expalin, if I'm interested in something that means I'm going to take the time, find the time, to invest in this interest. I enjoy the time I spend researching, reading, exploring this interests and to me if I'm enjoying something I'm being entertained. Something is holding me captive...

I know and can see that interest doesn't neccessarily mean it'll be entertaining, but in a way the two do go together to some degree.

And on to the not seeking entertainment when you read: Really? Do you not just pick up a book for the pure pleasure of reading it sometimes? I mean I'm always disecting a book as I read (I can't help it--a part of our brains I think will always notice the writing aspect of a book) but I also can let myself go and let the world the writer has created take over and pull me in.

Okay, just my two cents :)

Melly said...

Sorry Jennifer, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to literature and art and have always maintained this in this blog.

You're right in one thing, I do find entertainment in books (I don't think I said otherwise, but perhaps it came across that way). But, finding entertainment isn't what drives me to a book. When I read some of my 'not-so-good' sci-fi, it's pure entertainment. When, OTOH, I read some really great books, some are entertaining, but some aren't, like Beloved. I enjoyed reading Beloved, but it was far from entertaining.

Another mistake I made was when I said that I'm not seeking entertainment out of a book, I didn't complete the sentence. I'm seeking is value. That something extra that after I'm done reading would have left me with something and wouldn't feel like I just wasted a few good hours/days.
So I don't compare interest and entertainment, but value and entertainment.

And last, no, I don't get pure enjoyment out of reading just because someone wrote something. It's not in my makeup. And it's okay, Jennifer, people can be different in their interest and their habits. And really, many times I wish I could let go more, but what can I do, I'm a bit of a high-brow :)

Jennifer said...

So I don't compare interest and entertainment, but value and entertainment.

Ahh, now that I can see you're argument in. Those two can and are very different.

And last, no, I don't get pure enjoyment out of reading just because someone wrote something.

Interesting. I can just let go and read and enjoy a book, maybe that comes from the fact that I used books as an excape when I was in highschool.

Many times I pick up a book, solely because it's one of those I can read just to read. Kind of like being a spectator at a game, just there to enjoy, not coach, not commentate, not think :), just read.

Then again this is coming from a person who started writing in college and started writing because she just wanted to tell stories.

I never thought one wit about craft and art until I started my first writing class which wasn't until my senoir school of year (which was only 3 1/2 years ago :)) So sometimes I think my view on things is...well less polished...

Jennifer said...

please ignore my MANY spelling mistakes

Melly said...

No no no. Don't say that. You are unique with your free, accepting spirit. You have no idea how many times I wished I could let go more.
(Years ago I was as snobbish when it came to movies, thankfully, I can now let go and enjoy them without looking for too much).
I'm sure we're both going to change, that's what happens to people with time, and in a year we can have the same conversation and hold different opinions.
In any event, one view isn't more valid than another just because it is snobbish, if anything, probably the other way around. Your view is one I truly respect.

(spelling mistakes ignored and all :)

redchurch said...

Benjamin said:

"It's almost cheating and pretty fake if you guess what others want to read, rather than what interests you."

Do you think a lot of authors do this? Or maybe a better question is, do any authors do this?

Pat Kirby said...

Yeah, um, I don't do art.

As my writing partner says:
"I just want to write a damn good yarn."

Michèle said...

I came here by way of FredCQ. This topic is so intriguing, I wrote about it over at my own blog. I hope you stop by . . .

Melly said...

Eric, some authors do think about that. They think of current trends etc. But again, there's nothing wrong with that. It's all good :)

Pat, alas, I don't do art either. But I do strive for it.

Michèle, I did go over to your blog already and read it but when I tried to comment Blogger was down. I love your post.
I'm going right now again and leave you my comment :)

redchurch said...

Mel,

My point is more; Novels take a tremendous amount of effort to produce. I don't even see how it is possible for a writer to create something they don't believe in. With the amount of effort required, it just wouldn't be worth it if the writer didn't get some amount of personal satisfaction out of it.

So in a way, it's impossible to forego all personal interest in favor of what other people want.

I doubt anyone would write novels if that were true.

So for me, the 'artistic integrity' argument is a moot point. Obviously the writer feels some integrity or gets something out of the process, otherwise they wouldn't do it!

So the question still stands--can there be fake writers? Even if there are, they won't get very far...I doubt most would ever even complete a novel--too much is at stake via the time, energy, emotional investment, committment, etc.

A faker, by definition, isn't going to put in all that--which makes faking a novel an impossibility?

(I'm not counting outright plagiarism--that doesn't require much work)

Melly said...

Well put, Eric. I guess some of us have less faith in humans and believe this could be possible. But perhaps, as you pointed out, the work that is required alone to produce a novel would discourage most such 'fakers.'

FredCQ said...

There are also authors who are commissioned to write novelizations of movies or video games. I would not call these people fakers but they have a less vested interest in the material. I also think that these writers are taken less serious by their peers.

Melly said...

Oh, of course, and I just thought of ghost writers as well.
Fakers might be a strong word, but I guess I can understand it if someone said that it's not their own material they write (like cover songs??? ;) just kiddin'...

redchurch said...

On the original topic, Grumpy Old Bookman had a great post that sums up my position pretty well.

redchurch said...

Sorry, here's the choice bit for those who don't feel like reading the whole thing, or have no interest in photography:

"It seems to me that there is a message here for writers. As far as I am concerned, it is abolutely sensible and reasonable to sit down and write your own novel (or whatever), without any consideration of market requirements at all. It can be as traditional or experimental as you wish: 40 pages or 4,000. Your choice.

Further, it makes perfect sense to go ahead and publish that work yourself, in one form or another.

What does not make any sense, to me, is to write without any consideration of market requirements, but then to expect that the market will somehow adapt to you. It just isn't going to happen."


I think this is what frustrates me about the form/anti-form argument. You can clearly do whatever you want. But you may not get the results you'd like.

I think a lot of writers want their cake and to eat it too. They want to follow their muse off into the wilderness of intellectual masturbation, and still sell books and have everyone love them.

At some point, if you want others to read and enjoy your work--you have to reign it in and have some discipline.

If you never intend for anyone else to read your work, then it doesn't matter. But if other people are going to read it, don't you want their experience to be as smooth as possible?

As Grumpy Old Bookman advises, it's best to make up your mind what your goal is and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Melly said...

I like how you summed it up Eric, and with this sentence you said it all:
"...it's best to make up your mind what your goal is and adjust your expectations accordingly."

I'll add, and adjust the way you approach your writing and publishing endeavours.