Friday 17 July 2009

A Demolition of Square Brackets - Joan Lennon

I'm not a sequential, chronological type of writer. By which I mean, starting at the beginning of a story and writing through until I get to the end is as alien to me as sun-bathing. (Though I am not suggesting that writing in a beginning-to-end fashion is carcinogenic or gives you leather for skin.) I am not alone in having a writing style that can be (and has been) described as "water-boatman-like". A scene here - a scene there - concentrated whirling on one spot before ricocheting off to another to whirl again. Eventually I have enough scenes to start to sew them together. As I do that, if I can't think how to make something work, or a seam seem seamless, I put square brackets around it and go play somewhere else. Eventually the holes begin to be closed - a point comes where I must hunt down what cowers between the brackets - and, one by one, I pummel them into prose. Have at thee, square brackets! Are metaphors being mixed? Who cares!

It's a heady feeling, finishing a book!

Cheers, Joan.

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Damian Harvey said...

The thought that writers should know, write, or plan what happens in sequence is something that stopped me writing when I was younger - and I know it's something that causes problems for many school children when they write.

It was a great relief to me when I later discovered that many 'real' writers don't actually know what's going to happen when they start writing a story.

Sometimes I feel it's like doing a jigsaw when you don't even have the box lid as a guide. (Not that you really wanted another metaphor of course)

Gillian Philip said...

Great post, Joan, and I agree with Damian. I put off writing novels for years because I couldn't 'think of a plot'. As soon as I just sat down and started writing, it clicked - I didn't have to know what happened in the end because my characters would find out. (Within reason...)

I think it's intimidating for children to be told they have to 'plan their story'. I know some professional writers do, but an awful lot don't. In schools I make a point of saying they can just sit down and start telling a story - see where it goes. (I've had a few coughs from teachers but nobody's shot me yet...)

Nick Green said...

I'm the opposite to Damian and Gillian - non-planning, to me, is actually unimaginable. I can't even conceive of an unplanned story. How can you tell a story when you don't know what that story is? How can you say, 'Sit down, and I'll tell you what happened' when you don't know yourself? Granted, the details, I work out along the way. Sometimes a tangent will surprise me. But I always know the basic route. And I have no idea how you guys manage to do it otherwise. It's a complete mystery to me.

catdownunder said...

I kept thinking I had to have the plot all planned out too and then the late Judith Wright (poet here in Australia) said to me, "For God's sake Cat, just sit down and write! If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't happen go away and try something else. The thing is to write." I just wish she had given me that advice when I was kitten.

Anne Rooney said...

I'm with Gillian and Damien - I have a first scene, or a germ of an idea, or sometimes a title, and then the words come and tell me what's going to happen.

I find calls for stories (for anthologies or series) really hard as I can't say what will happen until I've written the thing! I usually end up writing the whole story and then extracting a 'plan' for the editor.

Lee said...

I'm also more of a plan-as-you-write sort, which of course necessitates lots of rewriting later on. I've often tried to figure out why I can't map out a plot in advance, and I've come to believe it has something to do with being so sentence-oriented: the struggle to find the right word, but especially the right music, often gives rise to an image or cluster of images which suggests a (sometimes new) direction ...

The word comes before the story - at least in my case.