Monday, May 11, 2020

IS IT OK TO... ?

This is a question which is asked with frequency by writers who have recently committed to the idea of getting serious with their time and have decided to take it out on a novel. Is it Ok to...?

The subjects are varied:
  • Chapter Length (short, long, really long?)
  • Number of Chapters
  • Number or Acts
  • Short/Long Word count
  • Use of vulgarity
  • Sex scenes, and the graphic level of said sex scene
... ad nauseam...
First off, if you are on your first draft, stop asking these questions, because they are only keeping you from writing. During the composition of the first draft, nothing else matters other than finishing. That is all that matters. As Hemingway once said so eloquently:
Every first draft is shit
And he's right. There are things you can not accomplish while writing the first draft, no matter how honed your editorial skills are or how many commas you can cut in 60 seconds:
  • Foreshadowing, for example.
  • Objective Correlatives,
  • Character arc twists
  • Plot Twists
None of those can be done effectively in a first draft, unless you can time travel, which is cheating... shame on you.
Let's look at the most basic, cut in stone LAW of writing fiction in the Western culture -- Plot is moved by characters in conflict.
No conflict, no tension, no movement = boring (even your mother will say so)
Right? That's rule one, right? Can you write a story -- a moving fulfilling story -- without conflict?

Heck most writers will tell you that every Scene in a novel requires Goal->Conflict->Disaster. Our very jobs, as writers, is to develop lovable interesting characters and then to torture them every chance we get. [Great Lecture on this Free on youtube]
Actually, no, that's not correct at all.

In the west we have the 3/5 act story. However, in the East (China, Japan, Korea), they have a four act scheme (called Kishōtenketsu), which requires no conflict. 
Theirs, is a culture whose storytellers preferred the subtle but effective mode of the Twist, instead of the Conflict. Contrast is their appeal, as it was for the Romans, though the Romans didn't bring that into their fiction. That's why most of our stories don't appeal to their readers, because they lack contrast, subtly, twists and refined disparity. Action is great, but Conflict all the time? _Please. 
Here is a short/flash example story which appeals, yet has no conflict other than off-scene description...
Daughters of Itoya, in the Honmachi of Osaka.
The elder daughter is sixteen and the younger one is fourteen.
Throughout history, generals (daimyōs) killed the enemy with bows and arrows.
The daughters of Itoya kill with their eyes.
All kinds of things come to mind with that little four line story. But brevity is not the point. The point is that while we are told about conflict in passive tones, there is no conflict -- only the twist -- the Ah-ha moment at the end. And too, those lines are examples of the four acts of Kishōtenketsu.
So, write, and don't stop writing until your first draft is finished. After that, ask yourself if you should do this or that or learn Japanese.

And.. as always... your mileage may vary, and my opinion of your writing style is only as good as Hemingway's first drafts. 

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