Friday, October 15, 2010

Confessions of an Ignorant Author

It doesn't feel at all like fall just yet where I live in northern California, so to help me remember it's already the middle of October, I'm giving away 2 copies of my Christmas novella, A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown (which is also a full-length play if your church is looking for a Christmas program). Just leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.
The posts this week have been interesting and informative, and I can tell by your comments that you agree. But quite frankly I wasn't sure how to follow. So I'm going to make this True Confession Friday. I've heard the term archetypes, but before Bonnie's illuminating post I couldn't have carried on an intelligent conversation about what an archetype is and how to apply it to my writing. I checked the indexes (or indices if you prefer) of my favorite writing books and couldn't find the topic in a single one. So I googled the term. Now I can pronounce it correctly (ark-i-typ), give you a list of the most common archetypes used in literature, and possibly give you a literary example of most of them.
That's True Confession #1. True Confession #2 is that I heaved a sigh of relief when I read Karen Shravemade's comment to Bonnie's post on Wednesday. I love that we trust one another on this blog enough to admit what we don't know or understand, and that any number of people -- readers and writers of this blog alike -- will gladly teach what they know without passing judgment on the one asking. Megan Sayer's comment to Karen's comment is a perfect example. By the way, I'm adding Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey to the next book order I place and I'll read it as soon as it arrives.
What sprang to mind as I thought about all I don't know when it comes to the mechanics of writing, for lack of a better term, is that I tend to believe a writer at heart employs by instinct those techniques and aspects of novel writing s/he perhaps can't even define. Maybe she couldn't lecture about the finer points of archetypes and character arcs, subtext, the difference between narrative climax and dramatic climax, or catharsis as it applies to literature. But s/he knows how to tell a gripping story that includes every one of those elements. If we're writers, we're readers, and we absorb more than we perhaps realize about what it takes to write a good novel.
I love the environment we've created, with your help, at NovelMatters. I hope this is a place you feel safe enough to bare your soul, to admit what you don't know and to share what you do. We're in this together. I think that, more than any other, is the message we want to convey. I look forward to meeting you at writers' conferences, and to seeing your names on the covers of extraordinary novels. But I also look forward, every week, to your input to what we write here. Thank you for engaging with us, and if all you've done is lurk in the shadows up till now, jump in. Become part of this community. Learn from us and let us learn from you.


Bonnie Grove said...

Sharon, I couldn't agree more. This is an extraordinary community of writers here on Novel Matters. I've learned so much from each of you - We're all in our desks, ready willing and able to keep learning.

I've learned so much from you, Sharon over the past few years. I agree, there are writers for whom the concepts of literature seem to move inside of them without being named, without the writer needing to conjure them - that sort of talent is the envy of all of us slugging it out in the trenches.


Wendy Paine Miller said...


You have many Christ-like qualities. This post demonstrates yet another.

I joined the team over at The Writers Alley and I was asked during my interview which blogs I enjoy most. I confessed I was addicted to this one. ;)

Have a great weekend, ladies!
~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Bonnie, I'm so happy to be with you in the trenches. Thanks for covering this morning!

Wendy, thank you. That means more than anything else. Of course, I know me, so all I can say is, ah, not so much. Not nearly enough. I read your interview on The Writer's Alley. Thank you for promoting our blog. We're glad you're addicted to us, 'cause we need you! You can bet I'll be a reader of The Writer's Alley too.

Stephanie Reed said...

Although I have read about the concept, I didn't know how to pronounce archetype. I think you're right about being able to employ literary devices without knowing the proper term.

As a reader, I find that I while I understand sophisticated novels, the questions for book discussion groups included at the end can throw me, so I rarely read them. In fact, I don't want to pick apart a good story, whether putting a character's motives under a microscope or analyzing an archetype. I want to *live* a good story.

As an author, I come here to discover techniques that weave a good story without exposing all the knots underneath.

Bonnie Way aka the Koala Mom said...

I think you're right that we absorb a lot from reading and that, when we're writing, we use all these techniques subconsciously. I'm taking a short story class right now and we're talking about these sorts of things - archetypes and climaxes and narrators and POV - and it's great. At the same time, sometimes I wonder, "Did the authors really consider all this when they were writing the story - or did they just write it?" Maybe the place to use those tools is in revision, when we look back at the stories and go, "Oh, I'm using an archetype there - maybe if I made that more clear, it would make my story stronger." At the same time, it's great to have this forum to discuss such things in. :) Thanks for startin the discussion!

Jan Cline said...

You all post great stuff on this blog and I have learned a lot. You seem to be "real" people that have walked the miles we all are walking in this business. It helps to have someone to nudge us along and give us the insight we need to move forward in confidence.
It was on a blog post here that I felt the ongoing nudge to put together a mini Christian writer's conference in my city. I have secured a popular author and some workshop presenters and it's on the way to being a reality. Im truly excited to see what might come of it in the future.
I'll continue to look to you for encouragement!

Anonymous said...

Jan, that's so exciting about the conference. Debbie had the same idea, and asked Katy and me to help. Ours was on October 2, and it came off beautifully. I know yours will too!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Sharon, I love that about the Novel Matters community. It truly is an accepting and non-judgmental place to learn. You ladies have done a great job of fostering that spirit.

Also, I'm glad I made you feel better :)

Cherry Odelberg said...

Thanks for the e-friendship and online support group. I concur with what you said about writing from the heart (like musically playing by ear)often because of what we have read. My thought is, if you are well-read, you will probably be a good writer, you just have to develop your own individual voice.

Marian said...

Do confessions of an inept writer count?

Confession # 1: I tend to put commas, in the wrong places.

Confession # 2: Sometimes I forget how to spell.

Confession # 3: Often I have to look in the Theseauras (sp?) to find a word which is hiding in my brain.

Megan Sayer said...

Add me to the list of people addicted to this blog...and thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. This community has been such a great support network and constant source of inspiration.

And if it's true confessions time, here's mine:

The reason I discovered Chris Vogler's "The Writer's Journey" is because ten years ago, working on my first novel, I found myself caught up in research of historical and medical elements, inspired by themes and counterpoints and caught up in mise-en-scene* and the beauty of language. I got such great feedback from people who read snippets of it, yet it floored me one morning when I thought "how am I going to fill in all the pages?"
I'd gleaned so much about sentence structure, grammar, dialogue and character development devices over the years of reading...unfortunately PLOT had passed me by. Yup. And I thought I was a writer.

Anyhow, apparently I'm not the only one; although I'm quite proud that my WIP does actually have a discernable plot...and it even makes sense!

Meg Moseley said...

I love this safe place to talk things over. True confession: I'm not a natural-born plotter, and my seat-of-the-pants stuff often leads me nowhere. I'm learning, though.

My latest discoveries come from Alexandra Sokoloff's screenwriting blog. My favorite so far: Know your Antagonist, and you'll know your Protagonist better, because they're often mirror images of each other. That concept is helping me get my WIP started.

I still wish I would find a magic formula as I stumble around my new story, but maybe the stumbling around *is* the magic.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I recommend Vogler's book to every writer I meet. I go back to it again and again. And I have another recommendation: Robert Olen Butler's "From Where You Dream". These two resources are on my desk always as part of my schizophrenic writing life. As a writer, I cannot write with thoughts in my head about whether or not I am writing about this or that archetype, or if I am beginning another story arc, or the various mechanics of structure or the like. That is like math to me. I am allergic to math (Confession #1). The only way I can create is within what Butler calls the dreamplace. I was so drawn to the concepts of dreamplace and archetypes that I completed the two year dream leader training at The Haden Institute in NC several years ago. Now folks call me a Jungian because I am constantly seeing archetypes in my dreams and in those of others - and including these in my stories. When I began to see the hundreds of stories and novels that began as the writer's dream in the night, I realized I was not as foolish as I thought. To see the depth of another human being is an amazing study in character (Confession #2). I am addicted to passive language (Confession #3), and am constantly editing it out. Perhaps that is due to my living a little too much in my dreamplace.

Anonymous said...

What great comments from everyone. I love the confessions, love the safety we feel with each other. You're all such a vital part of this blog. Thank you so much for your contributions.

Marcia said...

I, too, am blessed by the kindness (combined with a rare blend of honesty and openness)on this blog site. You all have brightened up my writing life. Caused me to feel as though I've come in from the dark.

I can't help contrast this experience to a couple of other experiences on the web. Many years ago, there was an AOL group for writers which I joined for a while (until it became too painful). They were in the world AND of the world, and boy were they mean to one another!

Then there was another Christian discussion group which I belonged to for a year or so. I did meet a wonderful friend on there, but a small segment of the participants hacked up each other's doctrinal opinions on a regular basis. That wasn't very fun, either.

Maybe those two experiences are why I'm still hesitant to share as much as I'd like on here.

Your sunshine is gradually helping me thaw out, I'm happy to say. Thanks for keeping things upbeat.

Megan Sayer said...

Marcia that's terrible! I should know better by now, but I'm deeply shocked at that. These people need to remember that they're as accountable before God for their behaviour in online communities as much as flesh and blood ones.

This sounds a bit poxy, but God's really laid this on my heart: I'm gonna pray for you today re this. You don't need to carry that kind of baggage, especially when it can affect your human (as opposed to online) interactions as well.


Anonymous said...

Marcia, I selected your name along with Jan Kline's to receive a copy of my Christmas novella, A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown. If you'll email me your address I'll get the book sent off to you. Thank you for your honest and touching comment.

Marcia said...

Megan, thank you for your prayers! I deeply appreciate them. I seem to have a natural rejection complex to begin with, which probably made those on-line experiences worse than for the average person. :-)

Sharon, hurray! Thanks for the book!