The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back to School– Day 21

with 2 comments

I’m not a novelist.  I have no designs to be one.  There are things about writing a novel that I just can’t fit into my writing schema; things that are so far removed from my writing schema that I would have to develop a whole new writing schema to accomodate them.  I have known this for some time, and am comfortable with it.  One of my contemporaries ventured the other day at dinner that whether you’re writing a short story, flash fiction, or a novel that it shouldn’t matter since fiction and nonficiton writing draws from the same basic skill set, that you write what comes to you and learn and adjust and fall on your face along the way.  As such, if you can write a short story, you can write a novel.

I don’t think it’s that simple.  I agree that you write what comes to you.  I seem to know when something needs to be a poem or when it needs to be a short story, but those feelings are a helluva lot different than when something needs to be nonfiction.  But I also have some innate feeling for how long something should be to function at the most optimum level, and I rarely feel that anything I write needs to be over 15 pages (the exception being my thesis, which by university mandate had to be 75 pages; I ran it to 98 pages because that was what I needed to complete the story).  Not all fiction writing, though, draws on the same basic skill set.  Novel writing, by most conceptions, demands a well-honed plot that can be sustained for at least 120 pages.  How could I ever think of anything that would go on that long?

I live in awe of plot, and can’t conceive of how so many other writers (especially screenwriters) have mastered it.  I’m usually stunned by films that are intricately plotted and executed, even popcorn fare like James Bond films, which usually deal heavily with plot.  How do they do that?  We handled the first few chapters of a police procedural in class a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t believe how much had to be loaded into the first 30 pages of the book for the whole ship to sail.  The writer had obviously thought through the entire thing, start to end.  There was a serious framework in place.  I was dumb to how she had done that, the same way I am dumb to how an abstract painter delivers his vision on canvas.

There are several causes for my implotability.  Foremost is my training as a nonfiction writer.  We never talked much about plot when I was getting my training, because in nonfiction, the plot is already there.  It has already happened, or may even be happening as you write if you’re engaged in participatory journalism.  You follow that.  It’s what you’re given.  Stray from that, and you’re corrupting your writing into fiction.  Also, I came to writing as a long-time fan of Raymond Carver.  That dude never wrote a novel.  I loved his short stories so much that I wanted to write stories a lot like them.  I seemed to already have some things in my head as far as what I needed to do to write them, and it didn’t include some long, intricate plot.  I needed realistic moments that I could write about, moments that I could work with to find truth or deeper meanings.  And they weren’t moments that lasted very long in real time.  That’s just where I was in my head.

Who knows, though.  My fiction skills are in the stratosphere compared to where they were two years ago.  Maybe as I continue to work on those skills, ideas for novels will come to me.  Right now, they aren’t part of my zone of proximal development.  If I am ever able to stretch my zone to include novel ideas, I’ll have a whole new set of concerns–  how do I commit that much time and effort to something?  I’m rather fond of the quick hits; the short stories that I can write quickly and then polish to a high shine.

So no, I’m not a novelist.  Not yet.

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Written by seeker70

July 24, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Just never say never. You may find one day that you write a short story and the character(s) are so compelling to you, that they won’t shut up, and they’ll demand more time, more story, more plot….and you may well find they drive you to a novel.

    Pam ParkerP

    July 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    • Thanks, Pam. Also, nice job sneaking in an allusion to a James Bond film! I think that day is going to come, though I don’t seem to be in any hurry to get there.

      seeker70

      July 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm


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