Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Wrong Way To Write A Story

I've said here any number of times there's no "right" or "wrong" way to write, or tell a story, and no "wrong" story to tell.  I've illustrated that with exploring several interesting novels.  Examples:


But all across the web I'm finding people explaining what they don't want to do with their writing, and for what reasons -- and I'm finding professionals with money to invest in producing or publishing who are explaining what they need from writers and it is what the writers want to avoid doing.

And ne'er the twain shall meet, it seems.

So here's one more attempt to explain to each of these groups what the other is talking about and why.

I've been messing around with graphics software, Adobe professional level stuff that reminds me of Macromedia (Adobe bought Macromedia a while back).  I've never mastered any of these programs as I have Word Processors gallore.  Graphics programs are tools for doing something my mind does not do, while word processors are tools for showing you what my mind does!

However, in messing around with graphics I've found something you don't see right off in word processors that could illuminate this communications problem between writers and producer/publisher folks.

It's LAYERS.  Today's computer graphics (such as Photoshop) are in "layers."  Layers give you the power to animate things.  It's quite a neat trick, and you don't need to buy the software to find out how it's done.  I've put the link in below. 

Your "ART" goes in the "background" layer, that's your worldbuilding, the philosophy, the iconic dimension of your imagery. 

The "CRAFT" goes in the "foreground" layer, and there are multitudinous layers in between until you get to the "mid-ground" where Art and Craft blend into solid commercial art.

People running a business founded on delivering your artistic product to a market large enough to make back their investment plus a profit for you and them are looking for is CRAFT.

They don't know, and don't want to know (and between you and me shouldn't know) anything at all about your ART -- your writer's art to be art must be invisible to the naked eye of the businessman/woman.

The editor/businessperson/investor is only interested in your CRAFT, your ability to pour your (Neptune-ruled) formless ART into the pre-constructed (Saturn-ruled) mold.

That's what programs like Photoshop do -- they set up a very limited FORM into which various half-baked products (a picture you just snapped) can be poured and then "set" or chilled (rendered) into something sharper, brighter, or morphed into a suggestion of something other than the original.

Film and TV professionals use programs that are far more sophisticated, less limited, having larger but more precise tools (and requiring a lot more computer power) to create things like the film Avatar or the Harry Potter films.

But you don't need the software to seat the major concept in your mind.  Look at this tutorial video - or look up some other tutorial videos on animation on YouTube.


Now here's what's going on with the conversation between writers and publishers.

Writers are talking about creating one LAYER of the finished product, while Publishers/Producers are talking about another LAYER which goes on top of the artistic layer.

The writers or art-originator is creating ART.

Astrologically ART is ruled by Neptune, and is nebulous, fuzzy, without edges, all about philosophy and vision into the higher levels of reality, beyond the mere physical.  Neptune is Romance, Soul-Mates, about "making love" and all the processes that enliven the Soul and connect you to the ineffable.

Astrologically Publishing/Producing and all sorts of businesses are ruled by Saturn, structure/discipline/application.  Saturn is all about the concrete world, and the practical results obtained within concrete reality.  Saturn is about Making a Living, about marriage as a business arrangement, about the physical body, and about "having sex" and the processes of procreation. 

These are two separate "layers" of our existence, and if you stretch the analogy of how Art software works to create these marvelous animations, to create the vivid colors, and to alter the appearance of reality (just consider some of the Superbowl commercials), you can visualize each of the "Planets" of the zodiac in your natal chart as LAYERS OF YOU, layers of reality overlying each other and interpenetrating to produce what you laughingly call your life.

So while your editor is earnestly explaining the realities of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and plot-structure, character continuity and arc in terms of marketability and profit margin, audience "reach" and so forth, you are yelling back that "There Is No Wrong Story!"  There can't be such a thing as an "error" in writing -- this is my story! 

You're talking about two separate "Layers" and you haven't run the function called "rendering" yet.

A writer who is trying to market their own material needs a cut-down tool like Photoshop (and its accompanying suite if you need to do animations), a tool you can use without completely mastering the entire suite of tools.

Fooling around with tools like this can give you not only the concept of LAYERS but also sharpen your ability to create those visual "icons" that bring the background worldbuilding and philosophy into the foreground of the craft layer, welding them together (rendering) inextricably so that no among of editing can destroy what is precious to you about your story.

There is no "wrong" in Art.  There are many "wrongs" in Craft.     

Producers and publishers usually don't look for new talent unless they're desperate in a failing market.  Think twice about being "found" and dragged into a failing market -- do it if you have a strategy for spring-boarding yourself out of that avalanche of downward pressure.

Here are the statistics for 2011 from Publisher's Weekly


Despite slowing growth rates in the final quarter of 2011, e-book sales rose 117% for the year, generating revenue of $969.9 million at the companies that report sales to the Association of American Publishers. Sales in all trade print segments fell in the year, however, with the mass market paperback segment showing the largest decline with sales from reporting houses down almost 36%, to $431.5 million. Adult hardcover and trade paperback sales were off 17.5% and 15.6%, respectively. In children’s, the YA/hardcover segment sales fell 4.7% and paperback sales fell 12.7%.

 The religion segment had a solid year, with sales up 8.4% in all formats. And in audio, physical audio sales fell 8.1% at reporting companies, while downloadable audio rose 25.5% for the year.
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Also remember "the medium is the message" -- writing for one delivery system is not the same as writing for another.  Study your delivery systems, business models, and let the data soak into your subconscious where it will be melded with your Art. 

Producers and Publishers will generally go back to the Names who have presented them with usable material on a regular and hassle-free basis.

They all want someone they can ask, "Give me something in this genre," and get "I'll have it for you in three weeks."  And when they get the manuscript, they want to be able to finger Paragraph 3, page 100, and email back "there's an error right there" -- get the answer, "Oooops, sorry. I'll have a clean manuscript to you tomorrow morning."  And when the morning comes, the rewrite is in the inbox -- and it does indeed correct the error.

Without even explaining what exactly the problem is, the investor gets it fixed because the craftsman is a craftsman. 

What did the craftsman do to fix the error that the investor couldn't do?  The craftsman went back to the file in her head that has all the layers separate - the file that has the "image" unrendered, un-flattened, with all the pieces distinctly separate.  And the craftsman then brought up one of the layers which was causing the problem, tweaked it a bit in a way that did not even TOUCH the underlying Artistic Vision, then re-rendered the Image, saved it, attached the file and emailed it back. 

It's that simple for a writer to fix a problem an editor or publisher has with a story -- if the writer has created the thing in layers to begin with, saved the layer-rich file, rendered a copy that's flattened and submitted that.

Most beginning writers "have an idea" -- and it comes to their conscious mind already rendered so it can't be easily edited one layer at a time.  So when a potential investor says "this is wrong" the beginner "feels" (not thinks, feels) the art is attacked at a visceral level because the "art" and "craft" are "flattened" into one layer at the Idea level.  But all that's being perceived by the potential investor is the grainy, blurry feel to the edges of the objects in the rendering, the craft not the art. 

One is discussing the sharpness of the image and the other is discussing what the image is of.  Neither can win the argument because it's not an argument yet.  To argue and thus resolve a problem, you must both be talking about the same thing.

To fix that tendency to produce "an idea" without layers (a Polaroid print not a digital image), the new writer has to master the "Photoshop" in her artistic mind, separate the layers of "My Idea," use the mending tool to snip out "noise" and sharpen the edges, and re-render it as a marketable product. 

The graphic artist always keeps a copy of the project (several copies in various stages actually) in the original file format that keeps the "layers" and all the rest of the effects separate.  The rendered end-product is delivered to the investor. 

The rendered product is something the artist has no emotional investment in (just a financial investment).  That's the secret to dealing with editors, publishers and producers.

Read this item on why and how lovingly written screenplays get morphed into something unrecognizable by the production process.

Think of every story you write (especially something shorter than a novel) as a potential screenplay which will (not might, will) undergo this process.  Put your Art down inside the background layer where it won't be touched.

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  1. That's an interesting take on story writing! I agree with it too, which is better for my understanding of stories/writing them. I hadn't considered the idea of layers in books before. Generally I just think of the process of writing the story, with the idea turning into the first draft, and changes being made to that draft, and so on. But it makes sense that the idea and the writing be two completely different things, especially given the fact that when I criticise stories I usually point out a flaw with the writing or the idea.

    Usually the biggest problem with ideas is that they're cliché. In film the problem with writing comes down to directors/producers rewriting something to use what works - what has already worked - and that makes films predictable. (Especially when you go to the cinema once a week like I do!)

    Very good post, and a great place for me to start with your blog. (I'm a newbie here - newbie says hi.)

  2. @Paul Carroll
    Thank you, and I hope you find other posts in the past (weekly since 2006) that explain some of the inner mysteries of the fiction delivery system. Though the focus here is on Romance, we're retracing a process that science fiction underwent with the advent of Star Trek, and that Westerns have gone through. Mysteries have had their day in the sun, and we'll no doubt see it all cycle through again, only this time everything's changed by the Web!