Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Paradoxical Perspective on the Creative Process

Some people believe that the best — even the only — way to engage with the story development process is, basically, to not have one.  To just begin.  Dive in, see what happens.

To — and  this one makes me crazy — just “let the characters speak to you.”

Okay, whatever floats your critique group chit-chat.  If that works for you, that’s great.  If it doesn’t, it explains a lot.  Including why it takes some writers ten years between novels.

I’m going to send you now to an article from the online version of “The Atlantic,” which may or may not be connected to the esteemed magazine, I have no idea.  It’s an interview with Andre Dubus III, who is an A-list famous branded author.  One who uses the F-word a lot, which may or may not be a window into how crazy and angry this business can make you.

Or, simply proving that you don’t need to manage your hubris to become successful.

If you’re one of those who listens for their characters to take over your story, you’ll love this.  You’ll hear a certain flavor of validation.

But… we hear what we want to hear. 

Because buried in Dubus III’s advice to start swimming in the waters of creative chaos is a truth, a cautionary yellow flag of acknowledged wisdom.  And on that count, he ends up completely aligning with what I believe to be the truth about the creative process, at least as it applies to the writing of a story.  And that is:

You will have to rewrite.  You will have to rewrite extensively.  You might just find yourself rewriting that story for years.  And you may never find your way out of that jungle, a jungle which you might claim is pure bliss.  That’s what you risk, what you sign up for, when you develop a story in this fashion.

There is, I believe, another way.  A better way.  Not available to all, because — like any discipline — you have to submit yourself to it.  Diving in is easy, it requires nothing of you.  It is a commitment to the bliss of getting lost, versus the outcome of discovery.  Some writers just can’t go there.  Others just like waxing eloquent about the great pain of finding their story.

Very few of those get famous.  Thing is, when they do, newer writers in particular listen.  Those bearing the scars of trying this for a few decades are quicker to filter out the truth.

Read the article HERE.  See how well you recognize that truth.  And how it sits with you.

One thing I’ve never said (though I’m accused) is that there is only one way to go about this.  I am saying that there are consequences attached to our preference and need with regard to our chosen process.

Which is why so many writers end up alcoholics, or crazy, or dead.

Here’s the unspoken truth of any process: once you get the story right, however you get there, it will look a certain way, it will cover certain bases.  That’s just true.  If it seems romantic and noble to ignore those targets and immerse yourself in the bliss of blind wandering, if that’s your process…’

… the end product doesn’t care.  The standards and criteria and architecture of a good story don’t care.

They just are.

And we get to choose how we get there.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

The Fragments of Once Whole Things

A guest post by Art Holcomb

“The beautiful thing about a mosaic is that it is best when made up of the broken fragments of once whole things.”

Your characters are very much like thatWhether we want admit it or not, each of our characters is such a mosaic, made up of those conscious pieces we assemble and those unconscious fragments that we bring to the work.  And how could it be anything else? We are always the real source of all the tools and raw materials for our stories. We bring each character to our stories like a comet, seeing only the fiery tail, but knowing that it is the unseen – the fireball of our imagination and experiences – that is the real cause of that streak in the sky.

But how do we access that?  How can we really get in touch with what we believe?  How can we come to know ourselves?

One way is to look at our writings for quotes from our characters.  Their words are our words too, especially when they seem to disagree with who we think we are, or when they say something unwittingly profound.
If we believe that someday people will be quoting lines from our own works, why not beat them to it, and see what you can learn about yourself.

Let me serve as an example:  In preparing this post, I combed through my personal writing for quotes by my characters that, while seeming natural when I wrote them, now seem to reveal something new about how I might actually feel.

Here are a couple of examples:

From F8 – A Shade Story:

“Circumstances are revealed in the crime; character, in the cover-up.”

“The defining moments in the history of Mankind lie not in what a person CAN do, but in what a person Will or Will Not do.”

“A slap is just a very fast, very hard caress.”

From A Siren of Turbine

“Life is collaboration with victims.

“Beneath every desert, at some reachable depth, lies a spring.”

“Your wounds are like the knives you carry. There’s the one that you’ll show them, the one that you’ll let them find and the one they’ll never know you have.”

From Perfecting Your Premise:

“There has to be a High Country in every story where the derring-do is done.”

“Plot only matters when it is the means to transformation.”“Every character has that one core value – that one unshakable belief – that is their impediment to growth.”
- – – – Through this second look, I found deeper meaning in these quotes than what they meant for the story. Why not pull some out of your own writing and give them a second look. And feel free to share them with us here through the Comment section.

You might just learn something new.

Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator.  His new writing book is entitled RE-BOOT YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!

Thanks to Art for another great contribution.  I sat down with him in Los Angeles recently at writing conference, and we swapped writing stories and philosophy over $26-a-plate hotel fish tacos.  The guy really knows his stuff.  Notice, too, how his headlines always offer a nuance of elegance, sign of a total pro.
And, he’s the only writer I’ve ever met that I’m not sure I could pin in the first round.  Guy looks like a retired 49ers linebacker.  Just sayin’… this is a guy people listen to.
On another, final note…
An update for those of you who opted into the FREE “Deadly Faux” deconstruction ebook… getting there.  Hope to have it out in another week or so.
If you missed that, or would like to get in on this workshop-like opportunity, click HERE for the post (the offer is in the last third of the article)Speaking of DF… you can read the Publishers Weekly review HERE.


Filed under Guest Bloggers