Friday, October 15, 2010

Forget About the Stickers!

I love analogies.  Surprising, huh?  Especially since this blog is just one big analogy.  But as I've learned, writing a story takes more than simply stringing together a long list of witty analogies like popcorn garland.  (Yes, pun intended).

As a beginner in any endeavor, we will make fundamental mistakes.  We tend to focus on the wrong things.  I remember when I got my first Rubik's Cube.  I was so excited when I was able to solve a colored side.  On a few very rare occasions, I was even able to get two sides, usually opposites.  But I could never get the whole thing without cheating.

I wouldn't understand until years later that my whole approach was flawed.  To solve the Cube, it's a mistake to focus on just the stickers for the side you're solving.  In fact, every sticker is connected to other stickers.  Once you know that the sticker you want to move has other stickers also belonging to the same little cubie, like Siamese siblings, finding a solution becomes much easier.

When I write, I try to Forget About the Stickers.  It's a mistake to simply focus on the prose.  That would be fine for poetry, but readers of fiction don't always appreciate the literary quality of a piece of fiction.  They want a story.  And the words are connected to other things in the story, just like the stickers on the Cube.  If those other things, like character, conflict, theme, are not there then the story will be fundamentally flawed.

It's fine to have analogies in a story, but they should be chosen carefully.  I know how proud I feel when I come up with a great analogy, but if it doesn't fit with the other elements of the story, then maybe it's not so great after least for that particular story.

So, forget about the stickers, look at all of the connections.  This will help you to chose which stickers you want to work with and which ones simply come along for a ride.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I Didn't Know You Could Do That!

Not too long ago, I committed myself to solving the Rubik's Cube and also to becoming a writer.

Just about the time I had finally written a story I was proud of, I was able to solve the cube in under one minute.  I meticulously followed processes and conventions only to find out that somebody had done something inexplicable.

"What do you mean he can solve the Rubik's Cube blindfolded?"  Stefan Pochmann invented the first technique to do just that.  His method was to memorize the initial scrambled state of the cube and then move each piece into the correct position one at a time.

I have had similar, perplexed reactions to something a published author has done.  "What?  I didn't know you could do that!"  Writers of fiction will tell you there are rules that must be followed.  You don't want anything to "take the reader out of the story."  One of the Golden Rules states that the author shall remain invisible.  And yet, I can think of three examples of this broken rule:

  1. In his most famous novel, "Money", Martin Amis writes himself into the story.
  2. Kurt Vonnegut also did this in "Breakfast of Champions", but in a much more intrusive manner.  The narrator/author is the godlike writer who confronts his poor character and tells him it is because of him that he has suffered so much.
  3. Though I never finished the Dark Tower series, Stephen King also wrote himself into his story.
Many writers will tell you they have had rules drilled into their heads, and you must obey!  But as I've learned with writing, rules are really just conventions and guidelines.  It's possible to break the rules for some very dramatic, fun, and even amazing results.