Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Riding the coattails and Standing on the shoulders as it were

Ok, so here's another random posting about something that Ello wrote about on her got me thinking. I seem to need other people for that now...and it's helpful that I stumbled across a group of inspiring people.

So-on to the musings-

Her post is discussing the different associations and conclusions people have or come to while reading different stories. This is something that has always interested me as well...I had a teacher tell me once that part of the attraction of specific genres is that the reader knows, sort of, what they're going to get. Which sounds obvious, however, it's also a good point. There's a certain level of expectation that happens within each genre. This is more true with genres than with writers I the sense that a writer can change their voice and tone and style to suit each genre (some better than others) so that each book in each genre delivers something appropriate as it were. When I run out to buy a new book I tend to look at them like I do clothes or accessories sometimes-much in the way I wake up each morning and decide what style I'm in the mood for, I also have to decide what style of book I'm interested in reading. What feels right?

Now then-my question is, are we drawn to different books because they remind of us of such and such story or movie or whatever, is it because of the feeling we get when we read a certain type of story (are these the same thing just in different forms?)

There's a lot of answers and probably the answer is "yes to all" but how much control does the author have over the trains of thought the reader boards while reading his or her book? How many times have authors or authors-to-be shied away from writing a certain book or using certain scenes, characterizations, options, conflict resolution etc. because it reminded them too much of so and so or they felt that it had already been done.

The thing that I find so interesting, personally, is how many times I've done this. We all have an inner quest to be original. creative. snowflakes. However, when you look at things and at people's lives, I find quite often that I am not, despite the beliefs we held when we were younger, the only one to have gone through various conflicts (having to go to bed early, getting our hearts broken, all that good mushy hallmark stuff and others).

These things are cliche because they've happened over and over again. So what's to say that an author can't "copy" an much of this is ok? How much should be changed about a story or conflict or the approach to a conflict to make it more original, personal, more specific to that author's sensitivities.

I have a huge hang-up with my writing because of these questions. I find myself saying...literally all the time...oh so and and so already wrote something like that so I can't do it. And then other half of my brain goes "ok, but lots of people have had problems with their fathers or their mothers or have lost a love or have pined away secretly for years and been driving mad or...or...or..." so I argue with myself. A lot. Can I, Should I...I am consistently stuck between trying to reinvent the wheel and wade through all the damn wheels I already have lying around for my use.

"Beyond the Seven Seas' is idling right now because of this debate. I have the "easy" and "logical" choice that may be appropriate for the genre that I'm writing but I am refusing to use it because I feel like it's been done so many times and in so many different ways that I feel like a hack. Granted, it would probably put forward motion back into my vocabulary and let the story continue but I think that it would only do so because at that point I'd just be following in too many footsteps. Ok, so some of that is fine, I don't really believe that anyone can write a fantasy fiction novel without having some throw back to Tolkien or McCaffery or any of those.

And then there's the whole idea of influence. Of course (warning, blanket statement) people who have only read a certain type of book will most likely turn around and write that sort of goes along with the idea of writing the type of book you would like to read I think (thanks again Tim)--which is really good advice and also really difficult for me. I want to write the kind of book I like to read but I want to make it original enough that I don't feel like a copy cat.

My influences are all over though-at times it's great because I feel like I have a decent sized bucket-o-junk or just-add-water options floating around in my head that I've snatched from the various science fiction, "modern literature" (I can't think of the actual genre heading at the moment so that will have to do), humor, fantasy and non-fiction historical that I've instinct is to smash them together. Ok, so that's what I'm aiming to do with Beyond the Seven Seas because I believe that in a lot of ways that's how life works. We all have elements of magic and drama and humor and the such in our lives...and these experiences and examples are ours for the taking and so what if so and so got there first? Isn't there enough to go around?

And yet. And yet.

I sit here and I wonder what other angle, what new perspective, what different idea can I take that will make my idea (which seems to change by the minute) and my vision really come to life?

I knew going into this book that I was going to have problems because Neil Gaiman had, in essence, beaten me to the punch. Ok, so I'm not Neil Gaiman...I'm not trying to be-I also feel that he hasn't said everything that can be said about this specific type of writing but at the same time I'm not sure what it is I'm trying to say.

Someone please tell me...what is my point? hehe.

So far I've deduced that I want to write a book that I would like to read that gives me the feeling I get when I hear "Dante's Prayer" by Loreena McKennitt that evokes images and ideas of the magic in life that happens when we aren't really looking or expecting it, that ties us to a sense of our history and a sense of our Jungian group story, that pays homage to the idea of Myth and Mythology because those are our roots as storytellers I think and that touches people and that pushes their ideas about the way they interact with others. And that celebrates being an artist because those are the kind of characters I like to read. Maybe because I am striving to be like them.

I read books because I want to emulate all those wonderfully sensuous, meaty, creative, damn funny, cheeky characters I meet.

I write because I have this noise in my brain that needs an outlet and sometimes, verbal thinker or not, I need to give it form that I can see and revisit and god knows, edit.

So....where does this leave me.


Steve Malley said...

It leaves you like the old story about the centipede: he started wondering how *did* he coordinate all those legs and never took another step.

One of life's paradoxes (paradoxii?)is that when we begin, we want to be original and are usually flat and derivative. As we progress, we become aware of how much we owe our influences, but we also reach an expression that is uniquely our own.

(For example: Ray Charles started with Nat King Cole covers. He played the same instrument, and some of the same riffs as Jelly Roll Morton. You'd never mistake his mature work for anyone else's.)

Don't worry about your influences. Don't worry about your issues. Just chase that sense of fascination and excitement, then try to communicate it to others.

In the end, this is all one big story, told around a campfire.

Lisa said...

I think Steve said it wonderfully, but I'll add a couple of random thoughts of my own. I suspect you and I share a similar tendency toward obsessing, so I've thought about lots of these things too. Even though I'm nowhere done with a first draft of The Foundling Wheel, I've definitely made some big discoveries so far.

That desire to know what it's going to be about, and what new spin or insight you can bring to the table? I think you have to put it out of your mind. Based on my limited experience, I believe that at a thematic level, you probably don't really know what the story is about until you let yourself go and write your way into it.

If you look at prolific novelists, each seems to have an underlying issue or theme that runs through his oeuvre. I'm talking high level, so it might be about unresolved issues with a parent, alienation, a desire for acceptance or validation, an inability to find love, etc. Those aren't cliches, they're just the universal themes that draw us consciously or unconsciously to a particular kind of work.

I think people are drawn to different genres because we're looking for different things. I'm a ridiculous navel gazer and so I'm drawn to literary fiction full of miserable people, trying to figure things out ;) Lots of people hate it because they find it depressing and boring. I, on the other hand can't stand romance, women's fiction, chick lit and/or a number of other genres because there's not enough substance to the characters for me (among other things). I could never in a million years write one of those books because it's just not in me. I don't think most people can choose to write in multiple genres (although a few pull it off and critics are still pissed off at Michael Chabon for doing it).

I think you have to write and write and your story and genre and characters choose you.

The key for me is to be able to know when to allow myself to switch between the left and right brain. I study craft and technique and try to be aware of how I'm using description, developing characters, solidifying plot, etc. but in order to get into a story that's true to my voice, I have to shut the left brain off and just let the words come and see where they take me. I'm not saying this is a good approach. I'm just saying that as someone who hasn't yet developed the "muscle memory" to unconsciously cover the bases as far as the mechanics of structuring a novel go, I have to accept that I write a whole bunch of crap for as long as I can and see where it takes me and then switch to a more analytical mode and cut half of it and figure out how I wished I'd done it from the beginning.

I go back to what I said at first. Just listen to Steve. I'm too comfortable here so I tend to get all stream of consciousness on your ass. I ought to keep my pie hole shut!

Riss said...

Steve: Thanks. (c: It's well said and well received. And yes, I think the plural of paradox should be paradoxii. Radii was feeling lonely. :D Sometimes things are only as easy as we make them and this is one of those things. And yes-the campfire is burning strong and it's July's turn to speak. (c:

Lisa: I think we do have a kinship here when it comes to getting thinky. I can't get the experience out of my head that I had when I was writing Chapter 4. It's not perfect, ok fine. It might entirely change. But the sense of momentum I had and the way the words were coming and then the way that once I hit chapter five it was like a toy running out of batteries or like being a kid running around and suddenly having no idea where you are...which triggers me to get thinky. Hehe. So, turning "think" off and moving on is the next step. (c: I will go listen to Steve now. :D

Anonymous said...

I think I tried to say something momentous, yesterday, but blogger ate it up.
I'll just go with Steve's Centipedes for now. and that is not centipedii.

I am stuck in my WIP that has taken a turn towards romance. It is not a romance novel, but I never intended to have the story tilt, heavy in that direction. Unfortunately that is the only way I see my characters playing their roles.
Am I making sense, that stories choose their endings. Well, we as writers do. But there are times when we have to let things unfold in their own manner and take the low road.

Riss said...

Mr. Reality- (c; You are, indeed, making sense. Centipedii is totally the better option hehe. Regardless-I think that's true that the stories will change their ending depending on the way the characters develop. I think that's both the easiest and hardest thing for me to think about--because it's the both the most logical and most abstract. I like speaking in opposites apparently today but I know what I mean. (c:

Charles Gramlich said...

I think it's a question that many of us struggle with. But you have your own voice and your own outlook on life, and that means your story will not come out exactly like anyone else's. I think it's great advice, tell the story you want to read, and if that's similar to someone else's previously published work, that's fine. It's not the same, it's not copying, it's not plagiarism. It's unique because it's coming from a unique place inside of you.