Writing Blather

The craft of writing is not a precise set of rules but a messy, disordered process involving a million subjective decisions.

I am not talking about grammar and punctuation which do require rules, or we end up with “I ate Pat” instead of “I ate, Pat.” I am talking about the actual process of drafting an idea into a novel.

For those of you who have read my blogs or books, you know my method of writing is to blather. The dictionary defines blather as: “babble. ”  I define it as thinking aloud. I’m blathering about writing craft now when I’m supposed to be revising my current WIP, where I’m required to delete my babble and craft an orderly sequence of events with brilliant prose. Apparently, my brain prefers to do my thinking over here. And in email. My poor friends are bombarded with “Do I really have to delete this?” questions and arguments when I work through a revision. (Thank all of you for your patience!) The process of babbling apparently pours out all extraneous thoughts and leaves me with the correct passages. Theoretically.

The truth is—there is no such thing as a correct passage, a perfectly crafted paragraph, or even a page that everyone can agree on. Like witnesses at an accident, we all see something different when we read a book. I’ve had different people read the same page and come up with a dozen different responses from “You need to use the five senses more,” to “Too much head chatter, reduce to dialogue,” to my personal favorite, “Not enough emotion.”

When I read fiction, I read for character and action. Details distract me, so telling me the rose smells spicy sends me looking for a reason why the author would tell me that. Dialogue works if it states character goals and motivations, but how many people go around spouting “I wanta get laid”? So “head chatter” is often necessary to understand the character’s actions. But that’s how I read and not everyone does.

The reader who wants to drown in detail will not like my books. The reader who wants melodramatic emotion will never read me again. I can wish to be all things to all readers, but I’m just not that good. Or maybe I’m just not that bad, because experienced readers don’t need everything spelled out for them.

Which means revisions come down to deciding just exactly how much information I wish to impart to the reader, when I wish to convey it, and how. Because, of course, I didn’t know the story until I wrote it, so there’s repetitious crap and gaping holes all over the place. But once the draft is done, I know the story, I know the characters, and that’s when the hard work sets in.

A lot of times, the decision comes down to do I like the sentence? I can ask myself if the reader needs the sentence, but how would I know? Some would, some wouldn’t. Maybe someday someone will invent software that analyzes every work in a genre and condenses them into reader expectation so I can run my document through and get it right every time. But I’ll be danged if I’ll read books on craft by people who think there are rules, because I know what works for me and they don’t.

So what works for you when you read fiction? Dialogue? Action? Philosophy?  Drama? And if you write, what goals do you have in mind when you sit down with keyboard in hand? And how do you achieve them? I’d love a magic wand!






Writing Blather — 4 Comments

  1. I’ve found that if there’s a section of text where a conversation is going on, I will only read the dialogue. I want to follow the discussion, and I’ll pick up on speech tag adverbs, but anything more complex than that, I ignore.

    When I told my writing group this, they were shocked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I weren’t the only one. In sum, I don’t recommend overloading your dialogue scenes. (Not that I don’t do this myself. 🙂 )

  2. I was running a writing workshop this past weekend, and the pupils kept on asking, How do I know it is right? In the end I had to say, you will know. The same way Pablo Picasso knew that that little dab of paint has to be red and not green. The goal is to drive the work to be more like itself, the most and the best that it can be — but only the author knows when she’s there.

  3. I admire your confidence and wish I could buy some of it. I’ve been battered too long by editors telling me to do one thing this time and another thing another time. I can agree both were right in their own ways–for purposes of clarity and so forth. But my voice is about subtle humor and human flaws and there’s nothing clear about either. Craft is a constant process that we all have to work at constantly, until it becomes ingrained, I think.