Sunday, July 04, 2010


I've been thinking about story. And have come to some conclusions which I know (or, at least, imagine, or hope) most professional writers of story already know. (Either that, or I've got it completely wrong.)

In almost any subject you may know the basic principles "intellectually" but there comes a point where you really know them. I don't think it tends to happen in one fell swoop, it's something that happens over time, bit by bit.

So I'm just going to write some stuff - to get it out of my head and into the world so it stops bothering me.

Story is fundamentally artificial, it's a representation of a reality - in the same way that a painting isn't the thing that it represents.

The upshot of this is that while inspiration plays a role in story, the real truth is that a writer is a craftsman who takes his raw materials, and the principles of the subject, then constructs a story. And a writer with a professional viewpoint is someone who knows this, and constructs his stories to effectively communicate the story's theme. (And theme is the fundamental communication of a story.)

Part of this, for me, revelation came because I listen to BBC Radio 3 a lot. They play classical music (and some jazz) but the evening drive show always has guests - musicians - who chat about their work, their gigs (yes, classical musicians call them "gigs" as well), the composers and so forth.

One time they were talking to a composer and discussing how much work he put into his composing, the way all the big composers do and always did. Yes, he might get the inspiration for a sequence of notes that sound good - sound right - but from that point it's the work of a craftsman putting that theme into a context, building the rest of the composition around it.

There is one corollary to this: the audience should not notice the craftsmanship. There is no point complaining that the general public don't notice how cleverly a story has been put together (say, all the brilliant set-ups and pay-offs in Back to the Future or the wondrous sparkling dialogue in The Biederbecke Tapes). Because if they notice, you as a craftsman, have failed. Only someone with an understanding of the subject would notice - your peers.

If a person comes away from a story having been moved by it (meaning, in this sense, having felt the emotions the writer tried to convey) then the writer has succeeded.

What's on the turntable? "Lady" by Supertramp from "Crime of the Century"

1 comment:

Eleanor said...

And that's one reason why writing is so difficult. IMO.
One of many.