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Writing Questions

Eh. I'm feeling nosy tonight. Been contemplating Writing, both in the context of several academic papers in various stages of completion from pre-outline to "polishing up for submission to a conference," and various fiction projects. Just thought I'd throw out a few questions about writing, to the general masses, see what people had to say. Most of these are oriented towards fiction writing, though the hard-core academics among us could probably answer them for more scholarly output as well.

1. What genre do you enjoy reading the most?

2. What genre do you enjoy reading the least?

3. What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

4. What genre do you try to avoid writing even at knifepoint?

5. What aspect of writing comes easiest to you?

6. What's most difficult for you to construct?

7. What aspect do you prefer to ignore as much as possible?

8. How do you prefer to put a story together? Do you think about mechanics or character or something else?

9. Tell me a deliciously shameful little secret about you and writing.

I'll start.

1. I really like reading character drama and intelligent historical fiction. Something like The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon or A Prayer For Owen Meany. If it's nice and witty, like Jingo or The Three Musketeers so much the better. Or something bizarrely grotesque, like much of John Irving's work.

2. Romance, especially romance with self-pitying characters who spend their time moping and pining, bores me to tears. Halfway through Anna Karenina, I was rooting for the train.

3. Oddly enough, I find that most of what I write either comes down to family drama or social satire. And that gets divided along stylistic lines. My prose writing tends towards family drama, while my best playwriting is social satire. There are exceptions, of course -- I've written prose satire and a ten-minute play that was pure, 180-proof family drama, but mostly it divides up pretty neatly.

4. Again, that would be romance. No kissing, please, we're equine. I used to hate the idea of writing child characters, but then I realized that I like writing them in prose. I still don't like to write child characters into plays simply because I find child actors difficult to work with.

5. Easiest thing for me to write is dialogue. Most of my formal training in fiction writing has been specifically in playwriting, and for me, it's a very natural thing to tell a story through dialogue. If I didn't consciously keep a lid on it, my prose characters would just chit-chat through reams of story, and everything I wrote would end up with Chekhovian amounts of conversation.

6. What's difficult for me is to write large stretches of non-specific action in prose. A battle or a dance or something distinct like that doesn't bother me -- there's a beginning and an end, and a little mini-story to tell. But non-specific action -- just following characters through their daily business as the story unfolds -- that I find very difficult to write. To me, it always ends up sounding like stage directions. I sound variously like Shakespeare (Portfolio falls.) or Beckett (Blotch takes three steps downstage right. He scratches his nose twice and turns thirty degrees to his left.) or like Wendy Kesselman (Marie and Pierre have an extended scene full of richly symbolic action, described in loving detail, lasting ten minutes with no dialogue whatsoever.).

9. Physical descriptions of characters. I have a hard time remembering them in prose, and in a play, you hardly ever get an actor who looks like that anyway.

8. Usually, I start by imagining the scene. Who's there, what are they all doing, what must be accomplished before the scene finishes? Then I go through each of the individual characters and try to determine what they want to get out of a the scene, how they go about it, and what is hampering them. All that is from acting and directing training. I tend to work very closely with the characters and not so much with literary aspects -- people who consciously write with structure or symbolism in mind inspire boggled admiration in me.

9. I like keeping secrets from an audience. I love plotting out elaborate backstories and scenes from characters' pasts that I will never ever write, but which I will hint at in a text. Then I watch people reading or seeing the finished work, and I cackle to myself, "I know something you do not know!" in the accent that Mandy Patinkin used as Inigo Montoya.

So. I've spilled. Any other takers?

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
kln1671
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:27 am (UTC)
1. What genre do you enjoy reading the most?

My preference is action/adventure/drama, either historical or fantasy. Such things as Horatio Hornblower and Harry Potter. I am fond of subtle, witty humour, but I prefer it as comic relief within action/adventure/drama (such as in The Three Muskateers or The Hobbit.)

2. What genre do you enjoy reading the least?

This is a difficult one. Generally, I don’t care for romance, but I adore the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, which is classified as romance, so I guess it would have to be spy novels and modern-day crime/detective novels.

3. What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

Hmm…another difficult one. I suppose I most enjoy writing dramatic vignettes, either fantasy or historical, with a touch of humour.

4. What genre do you try to avoid writing even at knifepoint?

I don’t write sex or physical torture – not really genres, but I’ll pretty have a go at most anything else.

5. What aspect of writing comes easiest to you?

LOL! That would definitely be coming up with a plot.

6. What's most difficult for you to construct?

Dialogue is generally what I find most difficult. No one has of yet complained about my dialogue, but it often seems awkward to me as I’m writing it. I also have a difficult time with filler (basically, that non-specific action), for example the character needs to travel from point A to point B, which will require three days, and needing to come up with filler for that period of time. I am always tempted to simply jump form A to B and have to constantly remind myself that such jumping around makes for a choppy story.

7. What aspect do you prefer to ignore as much as possible?

I have to agree with you on this one. I generally include very little physical description of characters. My experience both as writer and reader is that people will form a mentally image of a character for themselves. Sometimes that image closely matches what the author imagined, but often it does not, and the author’s contradictory physical descriptions are ignored, at best, or a nuisance, at worst. Also, I find that such things tend to get tedious fairly quickly.

8. How do you prefer to put a story together? Do you think about mechanics or character or something else?

Again, your answer to this one suits me fine. ;-)

This is a rather complicated question because my fiction varies so greatly in length, and the process varies greatly accordingly. Many times a vignette begins with a vague image or line of dialogue or object and writes itself around that. Short short-stories (or long vignettes) usually begin with an objective, and then I simply start writing and go until I get there. Longer stories are usually sketchily outlined beginning to end. Then I start writing and, generally speaking, the outline goes out the windows, and I end up with a completely different story than I intended when I started. Each chapter is outlined in detail as I finish the chapter before it, though, and (most of the time) those outlines are followed.

9. Tell me a deliciously shameful little secret about you and writing.

. I like keeping secrets from an audience. I love plotting out elaborate backstories and scenes from characters' pasts that I will never ever write, but which I will hint at in a text. Then I watch people reading or seeing the finished work, and I cackle to myself, "I know something you do not know!" in the accent that Mandy Patinkin used as Inigo Montoya.

Yes, I like to do this, too, (though without the Inigo Montoya voice) and am also very fond of last minute twists that catch a reader completely unprepared emotionally.

I suppose, though, my shameful secret about me and writing would be that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. :-/


frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC)
My preference is action/adventure/drama, either historical or fantasy. Such things as Horatio Hornblower and Harry Potter.

You're now the second person I know who's been enthusiastic about Horatio Hornblower. One of my college friends gave me Mr. Midshipman Hornblower for Hanukkah. It looks to be right up my alley. Just have to hold out till Spring Break so I have time to sit down with the thing.

I suppose, though, my shameful secret about me and writing would be that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing.

And doesn't it feel like you've pulled off the big one when you can fool people into thinking that "you meant to do that?"
kln1671
Mar. 13th, 2005 08:34 pm (UTC)
C.S. Forrester is one of my writing idols. :-D LieutenantC.S. Forrester is one of my writing idols. :-D Lieutenant Hornblower is my favourite of the series, but Mr. Midshipman is certainly the one to read first. (Just don’t watch the A&E series, or watch it before you read the books. The casting is excellent, but the stories are all mucked up.)

And doesn't it feel like you've pulled off the big one when you can fool people into thinking that "you meant to do that?

Indeed it does. I am always especially delighted when I pull of a wonderful bit of symbolism without knowing it (though I do wish reviewers would more often clue me into what the symbolism is. ;-))
dawtheminstrel
Mar. 13th, 2005 03:24 pm (UTC)
These questions are hard to answer, Pony, partly because I'm not sure what to think of as a genre.

1. What genre do you enjoy reading the most?

I think I like the traditional social topics of the English novel. I like family interaction and stories about personal growth. I like those in fanfic too. And for just throwaway entertainment reading, I like mysteries.

2. What genre do you enjoy reading the least?

I don't much like stories that are very action based or violent. They creep me out. And if you're talking in a wider way, I'm not very good with poetry, either reading or writing.

3. What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

The same kind I like reading -- family stuff and personal growth.

4. What genre do you try to avoid writing even at knifepoint?

Torture, PWP

5. What aspect of writing comes easiest to you?

Grammar (boring, aren't I?)

6. What's most difficult for you to construct?

I agree that sometimes the hardest thing is just getting someone out of a room or deciding on dinner table conversation that's going to lead to what you really want to happen. Also, I tend to be impatient. It's hard for me not to rush a scene.

7. What aspect do you prefer to ignore as much as possible?

Description. I truly don't care what anyone is wearing, unless it contributes to their characterization in some way.

8. How do you prefer to put a story together? Do you think about mechanics or character or something else?

Some idea catches my imagination and then I start trying to think about why it's interesting. What's interesting about it? I believe that a story has to be about more than its plot (although it needs a plot). I need strong characters and a theme that holds the story together, telling me how things are going to change in the course of the story, so someone or something is different at the end than they were at the beginning. I have to think about that first. Then I start constructing actions to let me explore that theme and character.

9. Tell me a deliciously shameful little secret about you and writing.

Geez. I'm really boring. I don't think there is one really.
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:11 pm (UTC)
These questions are hard to answer, Pony, partly because I'm not sure what to think of as a genre.

Sorry. Us music majors probably toss around our literary terms in ways that would just horrify English teachers if they could hear us.

I think I like the traditional social topics of the English novel.

Are you a Jane Austen person? I used to think I hated Jane Austen, but I think I just read her when I wasn't old enough to get the humor. I've considered trying again. Do you have any favorites that you'd recommend?

Description. I truly don't care what anyone is wearing, unless it contributes to their characterization in some way.


Absolutely. Eliminating description tends to give you more bang for your buck.
dawtheminstrel
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC)
I love Jane Austen. :-) Which one you should read depends on your mood, I think.

I started with Pride and Prejudice when I was about 13 and have loved it ever since. I like the character of Elizabeth Bennett and there's some nice irony there. Actually, Austen can be pretty ironic always.

I also like Emma, which has a central who thinks she knows herself, while the reader knows she doesn't.

The other one I like is Persuasion. The central character there is older by the standards of Austen's day (probably in her late 20s - I can't remember). There's a sort of autumnal feel to it as she gets a second chance at love.

Austen is interesting. She's not very good technically a lot of the time. She lets her POV slip and her grammar is sometimes chancy. But she has a very good sense of how people act with one another and the tie between manners and ethics.
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:49 pm (UTC)
Pride and Prejudice was the one I read in high school when I decided that I didn't like Jane Austen, so maybe I'll give that one a miss for now. I've seen a couple of movie versions of Emma that I enjoyed, so maybe I could start with that.
bodkin_ra
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC)
Jane is seriously good - which is a death knell to tell anyone. (I'm very partial to the version of Persuasion produced by the BBC a few years ago. I prefer it to their last P and P.)

I sometimes thing that being forced to study Good Literature at school completely destroys any liking you might have developed for it. Although, on the other hand, it makes you read things you wouldn't have touched with a bargepole without having your arm twisted. But there are some authors - like Trollope - I've never forgiven for making me analyse them.

And poetry. Spending hours picking over why the poet used one particular word, when the answer probably is - it was the only one he could think of that rhymed. But again, much of the poetry I know and enjoy was introduced at school. Together with much of the poetry I know and hate.

And don't get me started on the type of modern art that involves painting a whole canvas one colour and then giving it a fancy name.

(Yes, I am a Philistine.)
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC)
And don't get me started on the type of modern art that involves painting a whole canvas one colour and then giving it a fancy name.,/i>

In that case, you should check out Yasmina Reza's play Art, which deals with three oh-so-chic friends and the strain put on their relationship by one of them purchasing an expensive white-on-white painting. If possible, see it performed. It's really an actors' play, full of great, very funny moments that need to be spoken aloud to bring them to life, and the climax, which brought shocked gasps from the audience both times I saw it.
bodkin_ra
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:51 pm (UTC)
Seen it!

It all goes back to pretension, really, doesn't it?
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:57 pm (UTC)
Pretension must absolutely be leavened with a sense of humor. That's what saves John Cage (of 4' 33" fame) from being completely unbearable -- he keeps a sense of humor about his work, especially 4' 33".
saadiira
Mar. 15th, 2005 11:38 am (UTC)
No! No! Fighteth not that sort of pretension. A few colors and a good sponging made me over a hundred bucks recently on a painting. Imagine what I could have made if someone decided I was "Known?"

LOL.

(Dira, who may be underestimating her own talent as an artist but sincerely doubts it somehow.)
saadiira
Mar. 15th, 2005 11:44 am (UTC)
Is that anything like naming the rainbow smeary kindof psychedelic looking thing I painted in half an hour over a small black canvas "Anti-disestablismentarianism" Instead of "No, Hippy, No!" As the waiter where I used to hang my stuff suggested?
bodkin_ra
Mar. 13th, 2005 04:56 pm (UTC)
1. What genre do you enjoy reading the most?

Apart from LOTR fanfiction (my current obsession) - lots of murders (very soothing). Kids' stuff. Jane. Terry Pratchett. Very little of any intellectual worth.

2. What genre do you enjoy reading the least?

Pretentious literary 'aren't I clever' fiction. Men's fiction - semi-clad women and violence. Women's fiction - shopping and sex. And I've just discovered that I can't stand 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. Coleridge should have upped his opium intake to the point where he forgot to write poetry.

3. What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

People. People talking to each other and growing in understanding. Whatever comes into my head.

4. What genre do you try to avoid writing even at knifepoint?

Graphic sex, gratuitous violence, slash.

5. What aspect of writing comes easiest to you?

Conversation, I think.

6. What's most difficult for you to construct?

Plot.

7. What aspect do you prefer to ignore as much as possible?

Well - originally, background knowledge. But I think I have extended that.

8. How do you prefer to put a story together? Do you think about mechanics or character or something else?

It usually starts with one of the characters saying something - and grows round that like a crystal. And then tentacles lead on to other things until it feels done. Very, very bad method for anything longer than a single chapter.

9. Tell me a deliciously shameful little secret about you and writing.

If I tell you, it stops being secret.
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:17 pm (UTC)
- lots of murders (very soothing)

Oh, finally, someone else who thinks that murder can make for a soothing intellectual exercise! Most of my colleagues think my fascination with forensics is weird.

Pretentious literary 'aren't I clever' fiction.

Yes! There's so much of that around, and the book reviews just fawn over it. And you feel kind of guilty for thinking it's pretentious.

If I tell you, it stops being secret.

Or, you'd have to kill me?
bodkin_ra
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:26 pm (UTC)
And it's amazing what fascinating snippets of information you pick up from reading murders!

And my real secret is that I can't think of a secret.
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 06:53 pm (UTC)
I used to work for the A&E documentary series "American Justice," and what I learned about forensics there would. . . well, at least fill up thirteen seasons of increasingly disturbing cable television docs.

Most fascinating thing was the interview with Dr. Henry Lee about how he went about solving Connecticut's Woodchipper Murder case and convicting the murderer without a body simply by tracking down the woodchipper and proving that it had created the few ounces of fragments that were all the state had in place of the actual body.
dot_o_choillmor
Mar. 13th, 2005 09:09 pm (UTC)
Now this is an interesting bunch of questions!

1. What genre do you enjoy reading the most?

I should probably say general fiction because it’s definitely what I read the most, e.g. Cathy Kelly, Sheila O’Flanagan, Maeve Binchy… I just love a lot of historical fiction too, though. I recently enjoyed Joseph O’Connor’s “Star of the Sea”. And I adore Barbara Erskine. I just finished a book of hers about two weeks ago and it was so good that it’s ruined me for anyone else. I’ve gone back to medical thrillers, which was a craze of mine for a while, but I’m plodding through this one a bit.

2. What genre do you enjoy reading the least?

Um… I could go for romance too. I cannot understand how people can read Mills & Boon novels. Yawn. But I think I’ll pick political thrillers. They go right over my head.

3. What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

I don’t really write a particular genre. I enjoy writing character pieces the most. Preferably with a small cast of characters.

4. What genre do you try to avoid writing even at knifepoint?

Is slash a genre? ;-)

5. What aspect of writing comes easiest to you?

Definitely dialogue. Like you mentioned, I have to watch myself or I’d forget to have characters do anything else. I know what else is going on around them so I tend to forget that people can’t read my mind!

6. What's most difficult for you to construct?

Plot, without a doubt. I’m also trying to work on description.

7. What aspect do you prefer to ignore as much as possible?

That’s a tough one. I think I ignore what’s going to happen in the end until I actually get there! It’s rarely what I intended to happen anyway.

8. How do you prefer to put a story together? Do you think about mechanics or character or something else?

I start off with a general idea of something I want to write. So I start writing and then ideas or pieces of dialogue pop into my head so I write them all down and work around them. I often know my final line, if not exactly what will happen before it and just try to end up there really. I hardly ever outline and when I do I constantly change it. That’s obviously not how I should be doing it, but it’s the way I’ve always worked, whether it’s writing for pleasure or writing essays, or even my thesis.

9. Tell me a deliciously shameful little secret about you and writing.

LOL. I don’t really have one about fanfiction. I will tell you that my first attempt at ‘serious’ writing was a version of Enid Blyton’s “The Secret Seven”. I was 9, I think. I never got very far, but I still remember the opening lines…
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2005 09:56 pm (UTC)
Is slash a genre? ;-)

It certainly can be, if you want. We are genre-flexible here in Ancient Armenia.

I confess that, although I think that Tom Clancy is a complete right-wing nutjob, his early work (say, up to The Sum of All Fears) was good stuff. Then the Cold War ended, and he lost his main villain, his editor, and his sense of proportion and let his ego and his tendency to sermonize run rampant over his storytelling ability. But his early work is one of my dirty little reading secrets.
saadiira
Mar. 14th, 2005 03:26 pm (UTC)
Ok, here I go.
1. What genre do you enjoy reading the most?
With a total lack of shame, I shall admit. Anything, generally, with a vampire in it is cool by me, so long as its decently written, and entertaining. I especially like dark fantasy, cross genre, and horror. The interest does broaden out from there, of course, but that's what I mainly really enjoy, of late. I really love when there's a bit of humor mixed in, in particular, though, to the above. No literary masterpieces, but I adore Kim Harrison, and Mary Janice Davidson.

2. What genre do you enjoy reading the least?

Pretentious wangst, in any form. That is not to say that I don't enjoy many of the classics, I do, though there is a short list of those that I really wonder about having made it to that status.

3. What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

Dark fantasy, crossover fiction relating to same, horror, fantasy, and maybe occasionally a bit of sci fic.

4. What genre do you try to avoid writing even at knifepoint?

I can't really think of one. Not when it comes to legitimate writing. I'll try just about anything.

5. What aspect of writing comes easiest to you?

It's easiest overall when it's cooperative, with another person. When it's not, I tend to be fine for either dialogue, or description, for longish bits. I have to edit in the details of the other, generally, though, later. I'm good with characterization, I'd say.

6. What's most difficult for you to construct?

As above. Doing simultaneous dialogue and descriptive. I tend to go short on description of anything outside movement and facial expressions of characters during dialogue. Then have to add in more detail later.

7. What aspect do you prefer to ignore as much as possible?

Can't really think of any per se.

8. How do you prefer to put a story together? Do you think about mechanics or character or something else?

I'm heavy into character, generally, and plot. I get the plot together first, then find or create the characters to fit it. Sometimes, the characters are inextricably linked, which is ok too. There are times I've gone for some pretty rigid structure. Mostly, though, I get a good idea of an idea, and run with it. I don't get upset if it ends up other than I'd thought it might.

9. Tell me a deliciously shameful little secret about you and writing.

Hmm. Blushes. No. lol.
frenchpony
Mar. 14th, 2005 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Ok, here I go.
You're a Gormenghast fan, right? It seems so right up your alley. You might also enjoy Patrick Süsskind's Perfume, which has a nice English translation if you don't read German.
saadiira
Mar. 15th, 2005 11:42 am (UTC)
Re: Ok, here I go.
I read it!:D.

I still recall the image painted of the baby smelling as would caramel by the wet nurse who said she'd never eaten it, if not much else, as that must have been a dozen plus years ago. Perfume was fascinating. Very nicely dark. I also loved Gormenghast, including the movie, even if John Rhys-Myers DOES look entirely too much like my ex for comfort. lol.

Unfortunately, I do not read German. About the best I can do in another language, generally, is newspapers, in Spanish (Which I learned, and speak some of) and Italian (Because I know enough Spanish to figure it out in print, with pictures.)

Some day, I hope to be able to read a bit in French.

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