Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Quest

Recently I have been watching a lot of videos on the internet of dances that have been performed for judging of some kind. I enjoy watching these videos on a superficial level (they are pleasing to the eye) but they also inspire me, and I am very intrigued by the connection between different arts.

Sometimes it seems as though they aren’t related at all! Dance may inspire me, but translating into the writing space in my mind is like trying to translate another language that you’ve never heard before. Ideas are tricky things, and I thought I would speak to that in this post.

Where do you get your ideas? I think there are two types of ideas. Spontaneous ideas and crafted ideas. Of course, the goal is that the first can become the second, but that is not always the case. Spontaneous ideas are fits of fancy that come over you. “What about a story where an elephant is trying to put on a sock but it won’t fit?” To become a crafted idea, the writer must determine how much connection and commitment they have to the idea. “Do I really like elephants enough for this? Do I relate to the poor guy’s problem?”

If the answer is “Well, I don’t really like elephants, but I can work with this idea,” the writer should be very careful in going to craft the idea, because generally it will become clichéd and trite (the elephant has a mommy and a daddy who watch with amusement, etc).

Another path an idea can take is “inspiration.” Inspiration is a very interesting topic, even if one does not believe in it. Personally, I think the concept that you have to be inspired in order to write something comes from reading. What is inspiration? Feelings, essentially. An emotional drive interpreted as the need to create. When we read, we experience feelings and we have an emotional drive--what’s going to happen to the character? So when we sit down to write, we expect the same thing to happen. The trouble is, we’re supposed to be creating. By definition, the two experiences are extremely different.

So connection to an idea is important, but inspiration is not always the same as connection. I have an example, there was this idea I had recently that I felt a connection to and was able to write without becoming too contrived and without being “inspired.” It was a piece I wrote for Flash Fiction Month (July) called Amphibians about a boy who essentially thought he was a frog.

This is an excellent example because the ways it could have become cliché were many. We could’ve seen him hopping around the yard, his mother amused, then have a girl dressed up as a princess appear and “turn” him back into a boy. It’s very clear how cliché that would have been, right?

Instead I went through a checklist: Unique Relationship? (I gave him a friend instead of a princess, a friend who believed him and followed him around). Unique Inner Landscape? (I gave him a fascination with muscles, a fascination that led him to decide he was a frog). Unique setting/language? (I didn’t do much with this one in the piece, but it’s good to have on the checklist). Unique personal-relations conflict? (By this I mean a unique conflict in the relationship. In this case, the friend went along with everything until frog-boy wanted to jump in the river). As a side note, closure is also important. It can be unique, but it’s okay if it’s not, just that it’s present.

So the quest is to find ideas that you as the writer can transform into interesting, unique pieces. I find that having tools to get me there is very important--tools like the checklist above. Practice is the other thing. The only way I got out of the indulgent, poetic-fluff days was by writing myself out of them and by trying everything. Maybe checklists don’t work for you when you’re doing your first draft--try going through the checklist at the end. There are as many methods of writing as there are writers, but there are still universal things. Look for them.

See you over on the weekend. I’ll actually be in New York, maybe I’ll do something about how landscape can inspire. No promises though :P

3 comments:

Zomzara said...

There are many points here that I have thought about in the past too. Part of the disappointment I feel after having read back something I wrote a while ago is that when I read it back I am no longer in the same inspired state of mind as I was in writing. So what you are saying here makes a lot of sense to me.

I might try out using a checklist. Partly I think these tools could be useful, but I also like to think that writing is not meant to be formulaic or bogged down with rules. I doubt Shakespeare or Goethe concerned themselves with such things. I suspect they simply played around and wrote and spent their studies learning about the world rather than about writing.

I’m in two minds at the moment about whether to spend time learning about writing, or to spend that time learning about myself and the world. Either will be productive, but which would be more effective? I’m thinking the latter, but I really don’t know for sure.

Interesting post.

Meredith said...

“I also like to think that writing is not meant to be formulaic or bogged down with rules.”

Really! For me, formulas are everything. I create formulas about the world around me in order to understand it. For example, I was fascinated with friendships for an extremely long time--what exactly made them tick? Was there something universal that caused relationships between people? A one plus one formula can’t work in this case, of course, because it’s more abstract. But I eventually came up with an inclusive idea called the conversation bubble, where each party feels free to say anything that comes to mind and so a bubble of conversation is created where anything goes--you are not confined to a back and forth, ping-pong style type of thing. Also, some people naturally create those bubbles, while others cling to the ping-pong form because they don’t know anything else.

“I’m in two minds at the moment about whether to spend time learning about writing, or to spend that time learning about myself and the world. Either will be productive, but which would be more effective? I’m thinking the latter, but I really don’t know for sure.”

Another interesting perspective! I have spent the last year learning about writing, and to me, the results have been extremely productive. It took time, but I have gotten much better. The difference is between pieces that sagged and broke like undercooked pie and stories now that have weight and substance and scope, stories that hold up.

It’s also interesting that you brought this up because my newer blog, titled Architecture is about the experience aspect to a certain degree. As a youngster I always thought writing had to do with emotion and internal things like that. I think that way of thinking may have stuck because even now I can definitely see the internal things (my relationship with my mother, for example), as affecting directly the kinds of things I have a connection to; the kinds of things I can write well about.

I think it may actually relate back to formulas--how much experience do you need to have, exactly, to make you better at writing? What is the relationship? I have a feeling it’s some sort of vague idea that you’ll have more material to write about, but ideas in the first place aren’t biased, and in the second place seem to come at their own will, no matter what you try to do. Some days in Flash Fiction Month I would sit for an hour or two with no result, and later some scrap would occur to me and I could work with that.

I do place a higher value on experience now than I did in the past, though. For one thing, it’s fun to experience things :P I think it has to do with learning and opening the mind. Those things can also be very fun.

So, experience in the world is something I don’t know of a defined value for but do enjoy and wish to have in the future.

Zomzara said...

I'm going to reply to this via email. x

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