Thursday, July 19, 2007

How Ugly, and Why?

Candice made a fine contribution to this topic today. Charles, of course, started it yesterday.

A lot of what she said about her own working methods echoed a post topic I intend to get to after I finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. We seem to have a bit in commmon about the way we work, she and I.

But what got me writing this post was this:

Yet I don’t believe we should ever turn off our inner critic entirely. I’ve found over the years that when a scene “just isn’t working” it’s usually for a very good reason. Either I’m in the wrong POV or I’m trying to force characters to do something that moves my plot where I want it to go but is completely wrong for the characters. Or maybe I haven’t spent enough time exploring their motivation, or I haven’t given them enough motivation. In other words, I’m writing ugly because I’m writing wrong, and I need my inner critic to tell me that so that I don’t waste too much time going off in a wrong direction that’ll require a lot of backpedaling.

This might sound hair-splitting, but for me, that 'still, quiet voice' is my inner storyteller. He's a different bloke from my inner critic. The storyteller knows how the tale should go. The critic makes the tale its best.

My inner critic is the one sitting on my shoulder, whispering the same refrain in my ear, over and over. "Are you sure those are the right words? Try this other way, it might be better..."

My inner storyteller is as pampered, petulant and powerful as any old-time rock god. If I pay attention to anyone but him, he sulks and quits talking. If I try to shoehorn my characters' actions into *my* idea of what I want, well.... let's just say it's a fit worthy of Jim Morrison on a bad night, or Chuck Berry with an IOU in his hand.

For me, the whole point of 'writing ugly' is to let that storyteller do his thing. My job is to humbly and quietly listen to the story unfold. It's when I let my ego get in the way of the story that I end up with wrong POV's, wrong actions, wrong writing.
Only after that bratty bad boy has told his tale and stalked off the stage do I send in the critic. No longer sly, wormtongued and distracting, he sits in front of my pages with gold-rimmed lenses perched on his nose making small clucking sounds with his tongue. He thinks of his work as 'tough but fair'.
If I let my ego get in the way of his shredding my work, I end up trying to defend clunky dialogue, story-choking blocks of description and pages of pointless exposition. Worse, I miss those moments of beauty where the critic's suggestion is nothing short of poetry.
The storyteller keeps me from writing wrong. The critic keeps me from showing ugly.


Charles Gramlich said...

Nice distinction between the "storyteller" and "critic." I never thought of them this way, but that's the beauty of a good post. Makes you see things a new way. I love your descriptions of the two "characters" as well. The rock god versus the gold rimmed glasses. I had a good time reading this one.

cs harris said...

Now that's interesting. I'm not sure I have two separate forces. I'm going to ponder this while I paint this weekend!

Shauna Roberts said...

Very interesting follow-up to Charles' and Candace's posts. I wonder how many writers who get tangled up do so because they can't distinguish the voices of the storyteller and the critic.

avery said...

My storyteller and critic are at constant war. They're like the Stewart sketch on MadTV. The critic is the mom, "Avery, what did Mommy say about splitting infinitives?" While my storyteller is Stewart, "Lemme do it! Just lemme do it! Look what I can do!!"

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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