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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

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?

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