Writing Thoughts on Compositions as a Whole

I don’t know if I should apologize up front or not for acknowledging the existence of a Monday. It was going pretty well for me to ignore them completely, but if I don’t write this down I may forget it and then I wouldn’t have it at hand to review it occasionally. After all that’s really what blogs are for, right?

I’m currently taking one of my writing workshops this semester so that I’ll hopefully emerge a much more talented writer. I’m truly hoping to learn a few things, but in the meantime I’m making some not-so-rosy discoveries. I’m all for “show don’t tell”. You could narrate an entire story, and depending on the topic and narrator, it could be successful. Overall, though, “told” stories are not as engaging as “experienced” stories (I prefer thinking of it as experiencing a literary scene rather than showing). If you’ve taken writing courses, you’ve also probably been introduced to the concept of varying the length of your sentences. Many of us do this already intuitively, and we may not really have to think much about it. It’s important to keep that knowledge in one’s conscious mind though in case we are able to fine-tune a little bit more for an even greater impact.

But I’m not really going to talk about changing the length of sentences today. Here’s what I’m thinking. Today I’m considering the piece of writing itself as a conveyor. Think of your piece of writing like a visual diagram. Everyone knows that there is a beginning, middle and an end. Most stories put the middle or pinnacle of the story between the actual middle of the story and 3/4 into the story. As long as you have these elements, I think it’s healthy to mix things up a bit. I recently wrote a short story for the class and when I analyzed it I noticed some interesting components that I used somewhat subconsciously. Rather than declare everything including the purpose of my story right away, I stretched everything out until about 3/4 of the way through and then put a little blip where the pinnacle would be. Technically this should have made my writing ineffective. Instead the exact opposite became true (judging from reader responses) because the manner in which the story was written emphasized the lack of the pinnacle.

In plain english: Sometimes the pinnacle, or what should be the pinnacle in the story (i.e. the driving reason for a character’s actions) is NOT the actual point of the story.

By lightly skimming over the driving motivation for my character’s actions, I downplayed it because it was not the point of the story. My character is in a heightened emotional state, and mentally unbalanced. Her thoughts are not rational or reasonable and since I am writing from her perspective–how the world appears to her–I cannot write a lengthy diatribe on all the reasons she feels inconsequential. That action in itself would conflict with her mental state. There is enough in the rest of the story to tell the reader that the character is having a difficult time, that she has a strained relationship with her parents, and that she has no friends.

This immediately led me to the realization that the actual construction of the piece could be seen as a whole, like a living entity, that reflects the story itself. I don’t think it necessarily works like that for all stories, but it is certainly something worth investigating in one’s writing. Jodi Picoult is a good example of this. In her book Nineteen Minutes, the reader gets a sort of disjointed set of flashbacks to tell the story. It’s representative of the  emotional and mental state of the characters in its seemingly chaotic composition. A very powerful tool. Just as how the story is told with the creation of long and short sentences, the entire composition can also completely alter the feeling of a story. I shall call it the method by which a story is written. Unfortunately, I think method is something a writer picks up with practice and failings. I didn’t actively think of it when I sat down to write the story, I just knew it felt right to the character and how they would be feeling and viewing the world. It’s not perfect and I need to hone it a bit, but I’ll be keeping the same method because it’s effective. Ghost stories are similar, readers often don’t get to the height of the action until the very end and it’s that placement within the story that impacts the reader.

If we allow our writing to become stagnant in how we write it (I am guilty of this a lot) and the method by which we tell our story, we simply become stock writers. Learning to “break” the traditional rules is just as vital to our craft as learning to follow those rules. If you read any of the great writings, they often broke literary tradition. It’s part of what made them great, but many people (not just teachers) will try to make you always follow a particular story mould. I think as writers, as soon as we allow someone else to dictate our voice or force us to write by way of stock methods, a little bit of us dies.

You know what I say to that?

Writers weren’t born to stagnante, they were born to innovate.

May the Force be with you all this Monday! Go forth and innovate to your heart’s desire! waahoo!

Scrawl Something

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