Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where the art comes in

I’m thinking back to Maureen’s post on can writing be taught? I believe everyone can learn to craft a sentence, come up with some sort of conflict and characterization, but lately, I’m discovered the books I enjoy the most do something that I believe is due inherently to the talent of the author.

They raise deeply compelling questions at the beginning of the book and answer those questions at the time when the reader absolutely is dying to know the answer, but as the author answers that question, at the same time, the author also raises two more compelling questions.

It’s knowing not only the question to raise, but also, the answer the reader really wants, but doesn’t expect.

I think that’s the art of it.

And even the most talented writers don’t get that knack for it in the first, second, even third books. Judging from the list of rejections of some of the best-selling authors out there, I would say it takes time and lots of writing to really finesse the talent.

The questions don’t have to be plot driven, they can be characterizations that are hinted at, something held back that keeps the reader needing to know more. And it’s a delicate balancing act, because as writers we have to give the reader enough to raise curiosity, but not so much we give away the baby with the bathwater.

To me it’s the magical element of storytelling. It's the one element that's the most trial and error, hit and miss.

It seems really instinctual to me, but I'd love to hear other perspectives on this.

Plus, am finally catching Damages. Caught the first episode this past Monday and wow, speaking of raising questions. This show has seriously got me hooked in one episode.


Maureen McGowan said...

Damages was amazing, wasn't it. Love the way it flips around in time without being confusing and keeps you guessing. And that was just the first episode.

I think there is a real art, like you said, to storytelling. And probably like any "art" there's no one way to get there. I've heard people say, don't go with your first idea, because it will be cliche... And that makes sense to me. But on the other hand, I know sometimes my first ideas are my most out there... and then I talk myself out of them. Don't know how I segued to that... I guess because I was plotting out the rest of my book today...

Nadine said...

Hmm... that's an interesting way of looking at plotting... I think you're right in that it does take a certain innate talent to do that, because if you consciously try and apply that while writing, you'd probably get blocked... Maybe it's one of those things to pay attention to in rewrites? I have to admit, I didn't analyze my last book in terms of "promises made to the reader" and questions posed and answered... maybe I should go back and do that exercise!

Molly O'Keefe said...

See, I think plotting is something you can learn. Lord knows I had to. Keeping all the balls in the air that a good writer is supposed to -- plot, subplot, pov, character arcs, theme, reversing expectation, committing to ideas, keeping the promises we make to readers -- I think the magic is being able to do all those things. Because if you think about all those things - it won't happen. It only happens when you don't think about it - when you just let it happen and that's the magic.

that's what I think today anyway.

Anonymous said...

Today I think it's the hardest thing, because I'm constantly fighting my first instinct, which is to give away everything up front..

Tomorrow, something else might be the key to the castle..

Annette Gallant said...

I think just as dangerous as giving everything away too quickly is not giving the reader enough. I hate books where nothing much goes on for pages and pages except the main character rehashing the same internal thoughts over and over again.

I've been guilty of doing both these things. Luckily, I have a great critique group who rap my knuckles whenever I do this.

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