Monday, August 6, 2012

Finding Form

So I'm at the local public library (and gosh do I detest working on a Windows machine--note to self, drag the laptop along everywhere) and have realized that I come to the library for one main reason and usually fail at achieving it. In writing hundreds of stories I've learned that I have no problem with ideas and 'creativity' as it is usually defined, nor is writer's block much of a problem, but the thing that I've struggled with the most of the past year and a bit is coming up with a suitable form to tell each story. I come to library for inspiration in this, and I can spend lots of time skimming through fiction books and various others to get ideas, but there doesn't seem to be any central resource for form.

I'm not talking about structure or even style (which are covered in many 'wannabe writer' books), though these are components, because I guess I'm talking about something more whole than that--the success interplay of style, structure, voice, language, and idea over time. I keep looking for a book that has compiled and analyzed the most successful story forms and authors, but such a book does not seem to exist (there probably is one). There are the 'wannabe writer' books, author biographies, mildly annotated anthologies, and very occasionally, books about movements in literature. Not what I'm looking for.

To give an example of what I would like to see, I recently set about analyzing why Twilight works as well as it does. I loathe the book for many reasons, but I can't say that it isn't immensely readable--it's extremely easy to zip through, even if parts of it make you cringe. I wanted to know why, and I came to the conclusion that it is a straightforward story with one viewpoint (for the most part if you are counting the whole series). The language is simple and everything sort of happens in a straight line and it's easy to keep track of what's going on. There's also enough (reasonably plausible) weird stuff thrown in to keep it interesting. I'm not saying this is a good model to follow to create a good story, but it is a good model of a story that reads swiftly (and a lot of ponderous 'literary' writers could learn a thing or two from it). I want to see a curated list of the best (or at least notable) and most unique examples. What works? Why does it work? I also think it shouldn't be limited to just 'literature'. The pulpier stuff has its merits as well (I could go on about Stephen King and why his output is like gourmet hamburgers--great stuff in a common form, but can get a bit repetitive if you consume it all the time).

The other thing I keep missing, is the connections between literary movements. What form or style informed another? I'm not so concerned with specific authors and works in this case, but more generalities. What makes a novel post-modern for instance, and what are the variations? How are characters different in a post-modern novel than they are in a gothic novel? You know, just for examples. I guess if I invested in a serious English Lit education I could get that stuff, but I have neither the time or the money.

So I was thinking, as I'm ferreting this stuff out anyway, why don't I actively share it? Sure I've got a ton of projects I'm working on, but I need to do this to expand my skill set anyway. Anyone else interested in reading about this topic? Also, if anyone knows of such books being written already, please let me know! I love to save time when I can.


Catherine Noble said...

Yes! I'd love to find out all of these things. Like you, I have no problem getting ideas and inspiration for my stories, but I would love to know more on how to... "decorate" them, so to speak. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with :)

KaOs said...

Cool. Glad to know I'm not the only one pondering this.

Anonymous said...

I found this one very good - Reading like a writer, by Francine Prose.

KaOs said...

Ooh, yes, that's a good one. I read it back when I was working at a bookstore, so it's been awhile. I'll seek it out again. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I see that you said you don't struggle with writer's block and I was wondering if you could give me a few tips. I've written a great beginning to my novel, and a pretty kick-butt ending. It's just the middle that's eluding me. Every idea I come up with either fits into the beginning or end. Any suggestions?

NaNoWriMo author, MJ Wille :)

Unknown said...

for some reason, the link didn't work. Here's the actual site address if you'd like to check it out for some back-story on my book. I'd love any advice you could give me :)

KaOs said...

Megan, that's great that you have the beginning and the end, but yes, filling in the journey in between can be hard. Great stories are made of conflict, so try throwing some tribulations at your characters. Get them in a mess and see how they work their way out. The ending should be the reward (maybe not for the characters but at least for the reader) for all the difficulty getting there. Also, try different things, try some absurd things if it comes to that--you don't have to keep what you write but the process of writing it will tell you more about your characters and how they behave and think (remember these are real people, even if they only live on the page).

I like what Jane Austen did with Pride and Prejudice, gleefully throwing blocks into *every* character's way, even the minor ones. Then she gave each character what they thought they wanted (except I think, Mr. Darcy's aunt). In a way this technique is a bit twisted, but it makes for a ripping story.

Other than that, some general strategies are to minimize distractions. Sit yourself down, set a timer (20 minutes is a good bet) and force yourself to look a your word processor or read back through what you've already written for that time. Close your email and any other frequent online distractions. Sometimes it will take me ten minutes of forced sitting, but I will quickly get carried back into the story when I do this. Also, you can always work on something else (try writing a flash story or a poem just to get your fingers typing). Put on some music without words, do some stretches, or you may even have to stare at the ceiling for a bit and that's okay. The music thing is great because it's like doodling in a meeting--it distracts the antsy part of your brain (that part that slowly lets boredom seep in) and gives it something to play with, freeing up the rest of your brain to concentrate on the creative task at hand (there is actual neuroscience to back this up).

Usually when I am blocked it is because I feel something is not right with a story and I'm not properly acknowledging it. If I know the solution I might feel that its too much work to fix, in which case I just need to force myself to face up to doing what is right for the story. If I can't think of a solution, I know I need to meditate on it and come up with alternate scenarios or work through the character's psychology.

If you have been forcing yourself to write for more than four hours or so and you are then encountering blocks, you might need to stop for the day and recharge with some sleep (four hours is my limit, but it seems to be common). Chances are your brain will play with some of the problems of the story while you sleep and you can wake up primed for new ideas.

Anyway, I hope that helps :-)

Unknown said...

thank you so much for your advice. I never thought about the part you mentioned on my blog...the conflict coming from their romantic whatever it is. I could definitely add some of that in. Actually might make for an interesting middle :) Thanks for your help :)