One of my more recent large projects is revising a 3DayNovel from a year and a half ago, and, at the same time, revising the sequel that I wrote last NaNoWriMo.
These are very plot oriented stories, mysteries, action stories to some extent, and so there is a very definite structure, key points, key activities, key discussions that have to take place. And because of that I notice that I’m really short on character, internal dialogue, and setting, other than the bits that are key to the structure of the plot.
I had a writing instructor who insisted that there are plot writers and there are character writers, like there are boys and there are girls. Not her metaphor; mine, but she was almost that definite. But for me it depends on the writing situation. When I don’t know the plot at all, such as with writing exercises, I happily write building on what I’ve got in front of me, expanding the character, filling out the scenery, plot-less. The difference in this writing is that time progresses much more slowly and the world is filled out much more substantially. I listen to what I’m writing and pick up threads and ideas the same way that I do when I’m improvising jazz well; listening, building on ideas and interesting material, generating something that’s coherent and musical and says something.
The difficulty is how to get that depth of writing in when I’m focused on the plot. When I know I’m here and I know what’s next, how do I not go straight there?
I still remember in high school, Earth Sciences 11, my teacher gave me back my one page report with the grade of B, saying “I’ve never given that high a grade for so little writing.” He went on to add, “You have a talent for saying a lot with a few words.” Maybe I should have been an ad writer, but this still remains a tendency of mine; when I know the points that I want to reach, I focus on them and I get there right away.
And, going back to some things that I said in the previous post, I don’t listen to the story well when I review. I see the skeleton, the framework, I see what it means and how it relates to what has come before and to where I know I’m going, and I don’t see the missing flesh. It’s like writing a piece of music that consists of only the lead lines and no harmonized or thickened or textured lines, no music for the violas or second clarinet or French horns to play, all first violin and trumpet and one percussionist and maybe double bass or tuba. That’s fine if you’re sketching a lead sheet for a jazz quintet or pop band and you let the other musicians make up their own parts, but not so good when you write for 20 piece jazz band or orchestra. And yet I’ve done the composing and arranging for large ensembles, as well as the MIDI composition where I have to create the bass and drum and piano parts myself. I need to be able to transfer that skill over to writing larger works of fiction.