Friday, April 06, 2007

Learning from Mr. Bad Writer

One of the good things about working on a new book is realizing that I did learn some things about fiction writing the last one. Not that I won't paint myself into corners now, but, I hope it will be fewer of them. Probably the biggest difference I can see regards plot. A weakness. But now I'm fully aware that it's a weakness.

I learned about plot from a really bad writer. I don't mean to judge, but this was a guy who had "liquor servants" instead of bartenders in his story. But let's say he wasn't a bad writer, just a very, very new writer. Anyway, I owe him. He did me a huge favor. I didn't learn about plot from seeing how bad his story was. He taught me about plot by telling me that my story was bad. Actually, he never called it bad, he just kept saying "nothing happens." We were in a workshop together. We got to read maybe 10 pages at a time. I turned in scenes that tricked almost everyone else in the class. The writing was good. The imagery was gorgeous. You could smell the food cooking. You could feel the character's worry. I blew off Mr. Bad Writer. I mean, what did he know? Of course something happened: the mother made Thanksgiving dinner for God's sake, and anybody with an ounce of intelligence would be moved by what a beautiful moment it was.

It took me a few more months (maybe a year) of Mr. Bad Writer's voice in my head to understand what he meant and to realize he was right: nothing really happened. The scene didn't move the character even a little forward. She was worried at the beginning of it and still worried at the end. Many, many of my scenes were like that, well-crafted but devoid of movement. So why were they there? Ouch.

I'm happy to realize now that as I write new scenes I'm very quick to ask myself, What's going on in this scene? How does it move the story forward? Why is it there? And I owe Mr. Bad Writer for that. If not for him I might still be writing beautiful set pieces that don't lead to each other or change anything...and who would want to read that?

1 comment:

lafreya said...

I know what you mean. It was somebody in one of my critique groups who really was a bad writer that was right about my work.Same problem nothing was happening to move the plot along.