Monday, 17 March 2014

Monday blog: Writing for yourself or the story?

Currently reading: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Reading next: Railsea - China Miéville
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 back on track

I think I've mentioned before in a previous post that inspiration comes in a variety of forms. When I'm trying to develop a certain scene within my story I'll often find snippets of conversation form in my mind and grow outwards from there. Sometimes a particularly interesting action or line of dialogue might enter my thoughts that doesn't actually fit into my current perception of that scene or character. These ideas can sometimes be so compelling to me that I'll find a way to fit them in, no matter what.

But where do you draw the line? When does a really good idea stop being a good idea and start becoming a an active hindrance to the story?

A certain scene in my current story involves a headmaster verbally reprimanding my protagonist, Jade after she broke school rules. I had some ideas for this scene which I liked personally and very much wanted to include; you could say that this whole scene was created purposely to explore these ideas. Although these ideas did fit in with the story well, the fact remained that they were going in simply because I wanted them there and it would make me feel pleased with myself.

Because of this insistence that they remain I put a block on the scene and never added it to my mental list of scenes that need potential revision. This is dangerous, a mistake I've made in the past. At this very early stage, nothing is beyond revision and nothing is beyond improvement. I may have talked before about how removing large chunks of story can leave behind fragments of the old versions which can seem suddenly jarring or out of place because they have been overlooked. This is a similar situation.

Nothing is precious. Nothing should be saved. A writer (I forget who now) once said that if you can truly say that you love your writing then there is something wrong with it. Now this sounds awfully pessimistic and a touch provocative of the old writers perfectionism, but I think it's a good point nonetheless. A writer can't allow personal feelings and subjective preferences stand in the way of the story's integrity. When any decision is made to add, change or remove elements in a story, always consider the questions: Why am I doing this? Does it benefit the story as a whole or only me?

I like to challenge the structure of my story every now and then, simply to confirm that I'm on the right path. I recently looked at my first three/four chapters which take place in London and asked myself how they would work if instead they occurred in a country manor. What resulted was a different structure that might have worked had the setting itself not compromised the tone I was going for.. However exploring this new idea did bring to the fore some other ideas that would work within the current framework. These ideas were surprisingly easy to implement although one of them would mean altering the sacred headmaster scene I mentioned above.

Suddenly the scene that was purely for my benefit had more meaning to the protagonist, it shed light on a previously undeveloped story point and just overall improved the scene. I could still do what I wanted from the scene but I had opened up an avenue I had previously closed and felt all the more free for doing so.

So the moral of this story is to remember that, as a writer, everything is in flux and everything is in your control. Never discount something because you have grown attached to it, in fact it should be questioned more because of it. Don't be afraid to let go; you never have to permanently purge something because if you write everything down it's always there for retrieval if things don't work out. Explore new avenues of thinking and see what you can develop from it. If it reveals something new you had never considered then it was worth the time. If it only confirms that you were on the right track all along then - well - for a writer that could be the most important thing of all.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

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