Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Discussion on Strategy

We have been talking a lot about writing strategies lately; an ongoing project is to put together a working approach to writing, using various tricks and tools compiled from outside sources or developed on our own. Some of you may be of the mind that writing - good writing, anyway - doesn't need a strategy: it's either good or not, it either works or it doesn't. And that may be true, to some degree, but writing - like all art - is deceptively graceful; the best works and artists make it seem effortless, and those of us who have tried writing a novel, painting a fresco, or sculpting the human form knows it is not easy. Regardless of the medium or form, a practical approach is the best.

One of the benefits to such an approach is that you will already have written much of your work before you even begin. While compiling your bible, you will write entire paragraphs - even pages - of detail on various subjects present in your world and setting. When it comes time to impart this information in your work, you may be able to lift entire passages from your previous work to include in your story.

More often though, this information will be imparted in pieces, through dialogue, narrative, and character observation. Still, with all of the detail you prepared earlier and now have at your fingertips, imparting this information is simply a matter of finding it. And if you developed a working color-code system as we suggested, this should prove no problem. More importantly, your details will be congruent. If the most popular fruit in your world is the banana (as it is IRL), you need not specifically mention this detail - in fact, doing so would probably be considered an "information dump" - but whenever a fruit is mentioned or comes into play, you will know that it will generally be a banana.

This level of detail lends to continuity and that adds to the verisimilitude of the work. A single slip in this regard can destroy the reader's suspension of disbelief. If that happens, the odds are good that the reader will put your book down, never to return to it. It follows that, if bananas are the most popular fruit in your world, most characters will prefer them; and if your readers know this, a character who prefers another fruit, and/or dislikes bananas, automatically stands apart.

Granted, fruits and foodstuffs may play no direct part in your story - nor need they. It is precisely such detail, at such a level, that develops and exploits the reader's suspension of disbelief. When the reader realizes the writer knows the world's details well, and that these details remain consistent, he can relax and suspend his disbelief, trusting that he is in good hands. And the only way to ensure continuity at this level is to keep records of it. While you can do this as you go, it is much easier to determine these details before you start writing.

It is said that author needs to know three things before he starts writing: his characters, his plot, and how the story ends. To some degree, knowing only these three things can be enough to form the basis of a work and guide the writer along to the end, but this is rarely the case.

Like traveling somewhere you've never been, you need a strategy to get from point A to point B. Developing a strategy does not make the work any less inspired or organic; plotting-out a book does not force the writer to forego any last-minute changes. In fact, it actually lends to the process, allowing the writer plenty of room in which to "play" without losing sight of the ultimate goal(s).

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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