Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I'm thinking, thanks to a conversation on facebook, about how I write. I done very little teaching of writing, and -- as far as I can remember -- I have taken no fiction writing classes. No. That isn't right. I began a YA novel class at The Loft and quit after three weeks. The teacher kept using examples from her own work, which was not good.

In any case, I have learned very little about the theory of writing. Instead, I've read a lot.

People in the facebook conversation talked about the important of plot and motivation. Being contrary, I argued that you can write good fiction without a plot or motivation. The example I gave for good fiction without a plot was Calvino's Invisible Cities. Borges is another example. It's possible to write fiction without characters and therefore without motivation. Some of my favorite fiction is made up of descriptions of imaginary cities, anthropology, history. Angelica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial, Ursula LeGuin's Changing Planes and Always Going Home. Part of AGH has characters and a plot, but I really like the rest: the history and anthropology, folklore, recipes... One of my favorite recipes is from AGH. Maybe I'll make it tonight...

You can write about characters without describing their motivations. Maybe their motivations, if any, remain unknown...

Then I began to think about my writing, since it's the writing I know. I am more aware of plot than I used to be. I used to start stories with the first line. I'd write it down and then see if any more more lines followed. If they did, were they interesting and evocative? I still do a fair amount of this -- feeling my way through the story. When I was younger, many of the stories died. The opening lines went nowhere. Later, I was able to figure out ways to continue. I often write characters from the outside in. I describe what they are doing. Then my writing group says they don't understand the character, so I put in motivation.

Because I write SF, which has a pulp origin, I am aware of the need for action and motivation and plot. So while I am wandering through my story, I periodically have something happen. A monster jumps out of the underbrush. There is a fight. Then the characters go back to what they are doing, often having a conversation. In many ways, my longer fiction is a G. B. Shaw play with monsters.

I don't think I've ever written anything without plot or motivation. But it's often stuck in to make my writing group and editors and readers happy. So what interests me in writing? Language, images, ideas.

I may well decide that all of this is bushwah, and my writing is actually about something different. It depends on the day and my mood. But I spent ten years in my early adulthood writing poetry, and -- in a lot of ways -- my short fiction, when I began to write it, was like lyric poetry. My early novels were all picaresque. Set the characters in motion in an interesting landscape and see what happens.

I haven't gone through my life with motivation. I have some fairly strong interests and dislikes. Given these, everything else just happened. No ruling passion. No driving ambition or emotion. Just bumbling through life.

Looking back (I am old enough to look back), I can see continuities, impose structure and meaning on my life, but mostly it's just a life.

My fiction is like my life. Though I create more interesting settings, and I do throw in a monster now and then, and I talk about ideas...

Post script: I notice that this post is in direct contradiction with my previous post, in which I said I like motivations. Well, I do, especially in a superhero action movie. In a movie full of smash, bang, crash, thud, you need large, strong, simple motivations. Otherwise, they will be lost in the noise. There is nothing wrong with plot, character, motivation. But they are not always necessary. And I don't like rules for writing.


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