Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Go by the gut

Do you think about craft while you are writing? (how to construct good characters, settings, plot) Or do you just let her rip and worry about that “later?”

by Dietrich

I don’t think about craft as I write, I just let it happen. If it feels right, it goes on the page. There’s always the next draft to catch what seems wrong or isn’t worth keeping, and I often chuck things out and add in better parts. The first draft usually runs a hundred pages or so, then by the time the second draft’s done, it’s more than doubled. And it grows with every pass. I never know until I get to the last page whether it needs more work. And I’ve learned when it’s done and not to overwork it.

Craft is the part that got me to the starting point where I felt I could let the creativity loose. I read some books on the subject, two of which I recommended a couple of posts back, and then there was some trial and error, and some instinct. Some of what I gathered seeped in by reading the works of great writers. One part that needed plenty of attention when I started was my rusty grammar. It had slipped from the time I left school to the time I actually started writing. So, I got a stack texts on the subject and studied until my eyes crossed. It was a great exercise and it came in handy. Now my subjects and verbs tend to agree; I know the difference between effect and affect, and I can spot a dangling modifier from a page away. Although the exercise did leave me wondering why the language mavens haven’t come up with a pronoun for when we don’t know if a person is male or female – we can’t just keep calling them ‘they’ or when there’s just one of them, can we?

The funny thing is I often toss the rule book of language right out the window and err on the side of what sounds right for the story; let’s call it style. Sometimes when I reread a page, there’s barely a grammar rule to be found. I let my characters speak in their own words, and I can tell you most of those marginals never studied grammar at all.

On constructing characters: Well, I come up with an idea for a scene or story and drop in the kind of character I’d like to see in the situation. Then over the course of the writing I get to know them, or rather I let them show me who they are. I don’t guide them, I let their nature do that, and that comes out as the story progresses. And by the time I’ve got a first or second draft, the characters seem pretty authentic and real.

The setting comes that way too. I think of a scene and then I come up with the best time and place for the situation, and the story builds by scene to scene.

Plot isn’t plotted, not in my house. I let my instinct take care of that too.

Do you just let her rip and worry about that “later?” Once I gained some confidence, a style or voice developed. I came to know my strengths and weaknesses, like when something isn’t working and has to to taken out, and I’ve come to know when a story is finished, and it’s time to stop polishing it. So, yes, these days I just let ‘er rip.


Paul D. Marks said...

I work pretty much like you, Dietrich. And don't think much about craft especially in early drafts. But also, while it's good to know grammar, I think in fiction we can be more loose about it. As you say, that's our style. I know if I have the grammar thing on in Word it doesn't like my stuff at all.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Paul.

Susan C Shea said...

I don't think it's possible to write well if one is thinking about the craft at the same time. The result would be a self-conscious, writerly tone. I remind myself of a few sloppy habits I'm liable to succumb to as I get rolling. Then at revise time, I keep a sharp eye out for them. But I prize getting into the zone you apparently live in the whole time - lucky you!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan.