Thursday, January 14, 2010
A Damn Good Story
*shakes off dust from sleeves*
I'm back, yes, I'm back. With a real-live post, thoughts, and everything. Please excuse any incoherency and/or boring thoughts. I'll be back to my usual fun self in a post or two. You know, practice and all that.
I've taken a peek at Scott's post for tomorrow, and it goes hand-in-hand with what I planned to post about today. His thoughts are in answer to Davin's post yesterday about making sure we have a Good Idea presented in our story - and not just covering up a mediocre/bad/non-existent idea with good/fancy/grand-sprig-of-parsley writing.
I believe Davin and I have had a similar experience with our current works-in-progress (which we just swapped to read yesterday - for the second time). We both started with good, but vague ideas not cemented in anything - and after months and months and even years, finally worked a central Good Idea into our story.
I don't know about you, but I don't come up with some grand Good Idea before I start my novels. Even if I think I have something brilliant brewing in the back of my brain, it all gets changed and boiled down to nothing but a dry bone by the time I'm really into the meat of the story. Somewhere in the writing process my novels change and adapt to a mold different from what I planned. I'm okay with that. I plan as much as I can. I like to pretend I have control over the story and where it's going, but in reality, there are so many elements taking over that I often don't have enough arms and fingers to catch them all and pin them down. But I like that. I like the organic feel of my story pushing me in different directions as a writer because it means I've created something that feels alive and original.
So if I don't have complete control over the central Good Idea of my story, where on earth does it come from? My subconscious? And, as Scott will argue, what exactly IS it? Is it theme? Something that connects the layers of a story, all the characters? What they learn? What their experiences teach the reader? Is it a specific scene? The central action/conflict, a moral?
And, does it even matter?
All I know is that I've read some damn good novels lately. One of them was Young Adult, one was Science-Fiction, one was a literary classic. Genre didn't matter, plot didn't matter, even style and execution didn't matter, in how the books made me feel when I finished reading them.
Davin has a good point that many books are judged by their adornments. Many readers may not see the "core" of the story, the "heart," the central "Good Idea." If there even is one. If someone were to ask me what the Good Ideas are for the novels I just read, I couldn't say. I know my current novel has some sort of central Good Idea running through it, but I'm not sure I can pinpoint what it is even though I wrote it! The closest I can come is to say: "Trust is a two-way street" - but that sounds corny and boring and limp, and too much like a forced theme. Nothing like what all my adornments and style and plot and characters turn it into.
And I'm willing to bet that Davin, when he's finished reading it, will say the Good Idea is something completely different.
In the end - and I know I'll be shot down for this, so get your guns ready - a good story often depends on the reader, not the writer. If I set out to look for the central Good Idea in a story, I'm probably going to find one (even if I can't completely define it) if the story is decently written at all. And if I happen to like that Good Idea and I can apply it to myself, the story is going to resonate with me and I'm more than likely going to think it's a fine piece of work. Of course, all those adornments mean something, too. I can't like a story much if poor writing gets in the way of everything else. See what a snob I am? I won't even get into what constitutes poor writing for me. Let's save that can of worms for another day.