Friday, November 03, 2006

Too Conceptual is like too Much Chocolate

"Get too conceptual, too cute and remote, and your characters die on the page." Quote from Thomas Pynchon.

I recently discovered Thomas Pynchon (I'll wait for the gasps and clucks to die down....) In my defense there are a godzillion writers out there worthy of discovery and I'm only one person...geez. Also, he is basically a reclusive ghost with no desire for self-promotion. And we all know if you don't promote yourself, you don't get promoted. Anyway, I'm getting off topic.

I found him because I was looking for other writers that used science in their fiction without it being the classical "sci-fi" story. More specifically taking the laws of science and applying them to the broader subject of society. I first found his short story "Entropy," which does exactly this. You can imagine my excitement. Okay, you can't. You'll have to take my word for it. I was excited. I'm now chomping at the bit to go out and get his novels. There is a market for what I want to write. Well, sort of. There's a market if you can pull it off. Here's where the above quote comes in.

This quote kind of felt like a personal chastisement. I do get too conceptual. I layer so many meanings and make so many hidden connections in my stories that usually the reader is just confused at the end (of my short stories, at least). Why do I do this? Mostly because I get bored. If it's not complicated and abstract, I get bored writing it. Take for instance the way I write novels. A lot of writers make outlines, make drafts, at least know where the story is going before they start writing. I can't do this. If I know the ending...yep, you guessed it, I'm bored. (I feel writing instructors shuttering simultaneously all over the world at this confession.) My high is juggling the dozens of plot lines in my head and watching them weave themselves together as the story unfolds. As the pieces slide into place, the ending just materializes. I'm the only one that enjoys this complicated chaos into order mess, really. So, who am I writing for? My own pleasure? Which is fine, unless I actually want to get published and have other people enjoy it too, right? I think in a novel I have the time to explain enough, and dig deep enough into the characters that this need for conceptualizing works, but I'm not sure it works for a broad enough audience. Only time will tell, I guess.


Anonymous said...

As a writing instructor here in Colorado, I would suggest this: rather than a thorough outline, draft an outline that allows you to move around within the flexible boundaries of the story, while keeping the ending secret.

Like you, I cannot write a novel if I know the definite outcome. That remains fluid until I get there along with my characters. However, going into the writing of it, I have written a vague synopsis of the characters, their roles in the story, and what my idea for the story is...and of course, we all know that that changes many times before the story is actually completed. Consider the synopsis of the story a road map showing all the possible destinations that your writing journey might end in.

Numerous times, the ending of my own stories so surprised me that I was as shocked as my protagonist. I love that!

Shannon said...

This is great advice, Christian. I'm glad I'm not the only one in need of a surprise ending.