Monday, February 15, 2016


Imagine you just heard a stirring new song that immediately grabs your attention. It's from a band you never heard of and you do a little internet research. Turns out the band/song was a carefully planned social experiment. Researchers compiled thousands of popular songs and analyzed them with a highly sophisticated computer program named BERT. BERT found all of the patterns that bend our ears and hearts and spat out a unique song using those mathematical patterns.

I can picture a few different reactions on a spectrum ranging from:

"Cool! When is BERT going on tour?"
"I don't care what the process is, I just like the song."
"That's cheap. Creativity shouldn't be hijacked, researched, cataloged, and replicated by a machine. It should be natural!"

The set up is a bit of an exaggeration, but the premise is reflective of the writing process. There are so many rules and guidelines when it comes to writing a novel. Ranging from the structure of the whole and chapters (exposition, rising tension, climax, falling tension, resolution - and don't forget, the inciting incident must be in the first chapter and have glowing arrows pointing toward it.), to the mundane (beware adverbs! beware!!! Did you hear that in a ghostly voice and maybe some rattling chains? Good.)

Layer in a few dozen additional rules because it's within a genre (this is fantasy, it has to form a trilogy! Hey, where's the dragon?). All of these suggest a formula to me. A map claiming this is how you write a novel, unless you're a genius, then you can do whatever you want. Genius I ain't.

My knee-jerk reaction is to fight against prescribed formulas and that's part of the reason why I have avoided plotting and prefer a less structured writing method. Frankly, that's been hit or miss. It worked fine for Rise of Raulet, but it blew up on my next book, and now I'm 15k into the rewrite and battling against those feelings as I rearrange the structure to not-coincidentally align with the more classic five-stage formula.

I tend to oscillate between the three types of reactions when I think of formals and writing.  It's analogous to following the wisdom of your elders. The teenager in me isn't impressed. Ultimately, I think I need to get over myself and make use of the guidelines. Instead I can express my rebellious need by crafting a story with a unique element that isn't getting enough play on the bookshelves.

p.s. In my first draft I accidentally wrote, "I tend to osculate . . ." instead of, "I tend to oscillate." Ha!

No comments:

Post a Comment