By The Hilt

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Emerson

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

To Plan, Or Not To Plan?

That is the question, of course.  (Yes, I stooped to that terrible of a Hamlet reference.  Welcome, blogosphere, to the dregs of my writing.)

I must admit that planning isn’t something I’m terribly good at, at least when it comes to my writing.  I usually start with an idea, or a character, and let the story unfold from there.  Take my unpublished novel, for example.  I knew how it started, and one or two things I wanted to happen along the way, and very generally speaking, how it ended (very, very generally speaking).   And this is how I’ve always written.  I know the beginning, a few, very small, vague bits of the middle, and very vaguely, the ending (usually as vague as, “they defeat the bad guy” or some such).  If that.  For the most part, the vast majority of the novel is as much a surprise to me as I write it as it is for a reader reading it.  I’ll write  a part, and think of the next either during or after writing of that part.

Now I will stand back and acknowledge that this isn’t how “good” writers write.  However, I’ve tried those “good” techniques of writing out an outline with detailed notes for what will happen where, when, how, and with who.  I never wrote that story.  By the time I got to the actual writing, I was bored.  There was no excitement; it ended up more like writing a  history or a report than a story.

Sometimes I envy people who can utilize the “good” writing strategies.  I think it might be nice to be able to remain so in control and to know what the future holds.  And I know those strategies really do work for some people.  My best friend, who also writes, is one of those people.  But I can’t do it; not won’t, can’t.  It just doesn’t work for me.  It kills my creative energy, somehow.  Sure, when I get an idea, I’ll jot it down, and I may or may not use it at a later date.  But it won’t go in an outline, I can tell you that.  I like to take the journey with my characters.  It’s more exciting, and for me, more genuine.  I realize that I’m also limited my ability to weave a more complex plot, but while I occasionally enjoy a nice, convoluted story, that’s not usually what I’m in it for.  (“It” being the reading/watching/etc of a storyline.)

For me, writing is art, like drawing, or music, or any other form of creative expression.  As such, I need a certain degree of spontaneity.  I need to get excited about something to write it out, and if I’ve already picked it over ten times before I get around to writing it, then the excitement is all gone.  And that’s not too bad sometimes, for some parts, since you can just slog through it until it gets better, but a whole story?   It’s not gonna happen.

When it comes right down to it, every writer is different.  I’ve read advice given by published authors and other writers, and some say to make a detailed outline and know everything will happen before it starts.  But then others say not to bother planning (in fact, I think I read one that said even “whatever you do, don’t plan”) and that’s when you must acknowledge that no two writers write in the same way.

My blog posts are also not terribly well planned out.  Can you tell? (Probably.  But then, these are even less planned than anything else I write)

So which are you?  Are you a planner  or someone who just wings it, like I do?  Do you have any particular stigmas regarding one or the other?

Write always,

E.S. Hilt

Romancing the Reader

How important is romance in fiction?  After taking a quick browse through all kinds of fiction and seeing how incredibly, virulently abundant romance is, one would be tempted to reply, “it is monumentally important!  Clearly, one cannot have a novel without romance!”  I disagree.

I’m not saying that I think fiction should cease to include romance in stories.  Nor am I saying that I don’t enjoy romance sometimes, in some books.  What I am saying is that there’s too much, that a fiction novel can be good – even excellent or amazing! – without it, and that it’s gotten downright cheap.  That’s right; I feel that the majority of romance in fiction these days is cheap.  It’s a cop-out, a shortcut to intensity.  Writers have gotten lazy.  Instead of working to create, illustrate, and build a relationship between two characters that’s genuine and meaningful, the shortcut is to say “Oh, they fell in love.”  Voila, done!

Writer, brainstorming: Okay, so I need something exciting to happen in my book.  I know, I’ll have my knight fight a troll!  Okay, but why is  he fighting a troll?  I know, to rescue a princess!  But why rescue the princess?  Oh yes, they caught a glimpse of each other, and it was love at first sight!  It’s true love, and they will be together forever!

*insert gag*

No.

I say again: no.

Obviously, I drastically simplified that, but so many stories today use “falling in love” (if it can even be called that) as a short-cut; a short-cut to intensity or a short-cut to coming up with motivations for a character.

And then there’s another use of romance/true love that baffles me: the completely superfluous, unnecessary, added-on-last-minute stuff.  Sometimes I wonder if writers feel that including a girlfriend/boyfriend/romantic-interest-of-some-sort is necessary.  The children’s movie, How To Train Your Dragon, comes to mind.  It’s an adorable movie (I recommend it, in fact), with likeable characters and a believable relationship between the main character and the dragon that is cultivated throughout the movie.  But for some reason, the writers felt it was necessary to tack on a girl love-interest – almost as an afterthought.  In the end, the main character and the girl end up together.  Hurray!  …Except that honestly, I would rather have used the whole three minutes they devoted to that relationship on another few shots of fighting or flying with the dragon.  Because I really doubt they spent more than three minutes – out of the whole movie – on that relationship.  It baffles me that it was included at all.

So what say you, readers?  Is it simply that you can’t have a happy ending without romance?  Or is it something more?  I’m sure there’s a cultural commentary in here (in fact, I know there is, but I won’t get into it).

It is my belief that today’s writer needs to wake up – when we use romance, we need to put as much work into it as we would building any other kind of relationship between characters.  And more than that, we need to make it real, and if we include it, it needs to contribute something.  No more cop-outs, no more short-cuts.  Make it believable, and don’t include it just for its own sake.  There’s more to it than that.

Really, I’d like to see more novels out there that don’t have romance in them – there are very few, from what I’ve seen.  But I think it would be a good challenge for a writer.  I think it would force a writer into realizing what a crutch romance can be.   And I know I would love to see more stories that emphasize bonds of friendship, companionship, and family… and please, I would like them to be more mature than children’s stories.

What are your thoughts on this subject?  Have you noticed this?  And if you have, did it bother you?  Have you done this, and did you realize it?  Or do you think I’m wrong, or jaded somehow (which is certainly possible, although I think I have at least some of it right)?

I would also love to hear about any good literature (especially fantasy, my personal favorite) with strong bonds that aren’t romantic.

Write always,

E.S. Hilt

Holier Than Thou: Religion and Fiction

This is a third post on the theme of what writing should include: Right Writing (on morals) and A Place For Opinion (on opinions and agendas).

What place does religion have in writing fiction?  (I am referring here to fiction that is not explicitly religious fiction.)  This is a question that probably annoys atheists to death, but let’s face it: religion and morality are closely tied.  So if one has any religious beliefs, how does the writer of fiction reconcile their religion with their fiction?

J.K. Rowling found one way to do it in her Harry Potter series; she quite successfully avoided the whole issue.  She wrote children’s books, granted, not intended for an older audience (although all ages certainly enjoy them!).  However, she claims to be Christian and she kept any morals implicit in the story without ever mentioning religion.

I am not entirely comfortable with that, however, especially with a modern fantasy story.  Entering magic into the equation of the world’s history changes things drastically.  Suddenly the truth of miracles and other aspects of religion can be undermined by this new force.  Magic, for all that it opens up a whole new world of wonder and, well, magic, can also bring its own world of problems.  Then again, I suppose atheists again have it easy here, as well as liberal Christians (and other religions) who believe more in the essence of goodness than any historical or literal truths.  Moral relativism does seem to be at an all time high, after all.  But the rest of us need to give this some thought.

C.S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, chose a different approach.  The Chronicles of Narnia are considered by some to be Christian literature, with his religion written into the stories allegorically in the form of Aslan.  In my opinion, it takes a master storyteller to do that successfully, and even if one is a master storyteller (and I’m not making any claims to that), it doesn’t necessarily follow that this is the road one must choose.

When it comes down to it, of course, each individual must decide how he or she wishes to reconcile religion with fiction.  In some cases, I’m sure it needn’t come up at all.  But in others, like with morality itself, some of us feel an obligation to ensure that the message we’re sending to our readers is a good one.  Writing has power, and so writers have power; it’s our responsibility to use that power to better the world in what little ways we can.

What are your thoughts and opinions on this matter?  What are your personal struggles with this issue?

Write always,

E.S. Hilt

A Place For Opinion

I wrote a related article earlier, found here, on morals and writing fiction.  This article, however, asks a question covering a much broader spectrum than just morality.

We all have ideas and opinions that we’re passionate about and that shape our worldview.  We each have our own opinions about how the world is, and how it should be.  And all of us, even the ones who just want to write pure fluff (or some degree of fluff), write from our own personal perspective, a perspective influenced by those ideas and opinions.

The question, then, is this: how much of our own personal agendas should we include in our writing?  I spoke about morality, and that’s related, but this goes much deeper than that; many of these issues may even drive our desire to write, even those we choose the medium of fiction instead of non-fiction or some kind of religion or rights advocacy.

Some of our ideas and opinions are, of course, going to leak through.  But what about conscious additions?  What about entire subplots that are clearly driven by some social issue or religious agenda?  Does this have its place?  Or should we save it for another medium?

Say the novel is a fantasy story, like I write.  But say the author includes some kind of driving feminist agenda.  Where in the library should this book go?  Feminist literature?  Or just in the plain old fantasy section?  What place do our agendas have in our fiction?  Should we do our level best to exclude them from our stories, or do we have the right to include them?  More than that, is there some kind of obligation to include them?  Are they good?  Or bad?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.

I intend to write a third part on this subject, zeroing in particularly on religion.

Write always,

E.S. Hilt

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