Thursday, December 18, 2008

Character vs. Plot

I was listening to a writing podcast today and heard these guys arguing about what is more important to a story...character or plot. Not going to say which podcast since I am about to rip on them, but this is a debate that seems to come up a lot among very inexperienced writers and frankly, it is a stupid question.

Let me ask another question that has the same syntactic value in order to illustrate why it is a stupid question: which is more important to a coin, heads or tails?

Think about it.

Can you have a coin with just one side? Even if the sides look the same, there are still two of them. There is no dichotomy here, there is only a coin: a single, discrete object.

Stories are the same: a singular, discrete thing whose parts can be labeled, but whose parts have no meaning when separated from the whole.

If a story has a lame character, no one will believe or care what happens to that person. If Joe Papolitsky, my neighborhood State Farm rep were to captain the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, the story would fail. Joe is nice enough, but he’s a terribly boring man and doesn’t get on well with wookies (the believability part).

If a story has an amazing character, but nothing happens, no one will be interested enough to read on. Miss Marple sitting on the beach in Cozumel, eating some nachos, sipping a margarita then flying home with no conflict, crisis or drama is not a story; it’s just the diary of another crotchety retiree and no one cares, not even her four children who read her blog just to be polite.

So, rather than debating stupid questions, create interesting people and place them in interesting situations. If either one is boring or incoherent, go back to the drawing board before you waste time writing a whole story about it.

As for which starts the creative process (plot or character), it does not appear to matter. Of the writers I admire, almost all have stated that they will use either one depending on the story (though some have a preference for one or the other).

It's just a stupid question.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Secret to Writing Success

Two things:
1) Write every day
2) Exercise every day

I suggest a minimum of 1 hour each. If you are not creative enough to carve two hours out of your busy day, then I am sorry to say you are not creative enough to be a writer. If you can manage more than this...go for it.

Another suggestion is to plan one or two longer writing sessions each week, where you can sit down and work for 3-5 hours without interruption. I find these longer sessions are when complex ideas become clear, characters start talking and the big picture of a novel or story will gel. These big-picture things are hard for me to get my head around in a frantic 1-hour session.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blogging as procrastination

I have seen other writers touch on this briefly, but most seem to avoid the subject. The simple fact is that I should be working on the book right now, instead, I am writing this. It takes the same amount of time to bang out the words, the same amount of concentration and brain juice. Yet by doing this, I can put off some unpleasant bit of business I need to attend to in the book.

So, dear reader, know that by keeping the blog I am ultimately burning away many hours that could have gone toward finishing the book. At the end, I’ll try to remember to post a total so we can see how much time this cost the book. To date, I have spent ~6 hours on the blog, most if it over a 4 day weekend. That's about how long it takes me to write the rough draft of a chapter. So, blogging has procrastinated away an entire chapter. Ouch.

Decision of the Day:
A decision I am grappling with: keep story in Perth or move it to Seattle. For me, Perth is more interesting but I don’t know the city well enough to portray it accurately. Seattle I know well, but if I set it there, I will feel compelled to actually walk through all the locales I depict, checking facts, looking for little secrets most people don’t know. This would be fun, but it would burn days, maybe weeks and like this blog, would amount to little more than a form of procrastination.

Right now I’m thinking accuracy doesn’t matter because the story is about growing up in a zombie wasteland, not the trivia and culture of real place. But I ask myself: will the fine citizens of Perth hate me if I get their city wrong?