"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Saturday, 10 January 2009

I Against I

A response to the good things/ bad things writing meme as tagged by the good Sister Elinor.

The Meme’s brief: “When it comes to writing, what do you know you’re good at, and what aspect of writing are you worst at? (Procrastination is not permitted as either part of the answer.)”

This is one of the harder memes to answer accurately because I am possibly the least self-aware person on the face of the planet- especially when it comes to my writing.

Thankfully I don’t procrastinate... I worry... but that’s usually after the event. However, even without procrastination I am very slow at the writing- at the start through caution- I was brought up with the mantra from my Dad who was good at ‘building things from scratch’ that you should ‘always measure twice, cut once’. This has filtered through strongly to my approach to writing- I do lot of pre-planning and try and get the drafts quite right from the off (which is, of course, delusional and impossible). Once done there emerges an obsessive perfectionism that requires everything to be absolutely correct. And on top of that I never know whether the result is any damn good- even now I still suspect that the Red Planet people may have got the wrong person...

So, with this in mind, I have based the good points list on the things that seem to have been regularly praised over time in various reports:

• Apparently my characters are quite interesting, compelling and well-rounded;
• Apparently my dialogue tends to be quite good- probably because I read it out loud using a variety of funny voices;
• Apparently I’m quite good at conjuring atmosphere with nifty settings and visual description that immerses people in the world of the story;
• Apparently it’s seen as quite a good thing that I have themes, ideas and something to say- which seems to be considered a plus point.

Now, the bad points (which I can do all by myself!):

• I take scenes and ideas in isolation whether from dreams, flashes of inspiration or whatever and this can lead to a fragmentary narrative;
• I am very good at over-plotting- I haven’t yet realized how little plot there is needed in the average film;
• I am appallingly bad at structure;
• I overwrite enormously- massive chunks of unnecessary description- never use one good word when fifty superfluous ones can be used- however I have now bought a red pen!
• Endings- I can really screw up an ending- sometimes something good comes to me but mainly it doesn’t. This is in part based on my dislike of the tendency of films to end with violent outbursts which, besides reinforcing notions that ‘might is right’* and that the person who is strongest is entitled to ideological supremacy, I find lazy and easy. I call it ‘Schrader syndrome’: how to damage an otherwise good film by not knowing how to end it and resorting to a convenient fire-fight (cf: Light Sleeper; Hardcore, etc.).

I’m overly self-critical and don’t know when something is actually finished- I’ve actually started just asking other people.

Then there are some areas of which I have no idea either way... as roughly everything I do is roughly within a genre and set in recognizable places I do wonder to what extent what I write might be considered ‘original’. Not helped by my having watched far too much film and television... from which I may have accidentally absorbed and subsequently used devices.

So there you go, hope that fits the brief without being too revealing. I’ll probably re-read this in twelve months time and disagree completely but at least I’ve got room for improvement- no resting on my laurels- and most of the problems areas fall under the heading of practice and technique.

If there’s anyone left out there who’s feeling untagged and left out... well, you know who you are and you know what to do!

*with the honorary exception of World War Two- see Theo’s speech in The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp for the best explanation of why.


Elinor said...

Nice one Jon! EVERYBODY thinks they're bad at structure...

Jon Peacey said...

It's quite strange now I come to think about it... when I was at University virtually everybody was good at structure (or at least understood it) and most people were terrible at character and dialogue.