Seeing the story


Yesterday I talked about how important it was for the writer to visualize what it is he or she is describing. The whole purpose of writing–from my perspective, and from a communication theory perspective–is to take an idea in Person A’s mind and recreate it as faithfully as possible in Person B’s mind.

Without getting too deeply into the Communication Model, here are some of the things you have to consider when attempting to recreate that idea: (1)Medium–what instrument will you use to send that message? Novel? Graphic Novel? Video? Website? (2) Noise–what internal and external resistance will you have to sending your message? Can your potential reader read? (3) Coding–what language will most effectively convey that idea to Person B? And not just English vs.Spanish; I’m talking about formal versus informal, etc. You won’t want to use the same language in a dissertation that you would use in a graphic novel. (4) Finally, context. What other situations is Person B having to deal with that may affect their interpretation of the message?

Well, that’s probably getting too much like one of my lectures, so let’s get back to the essentials of writing. The point that I am making here is that you have to make that channel from the brain of Person A to the brain of Person B as much like an eight-lane freeway with no traffic as possible. Even so, the recreation of that idea (insert thinking balloon here) is never going to be 100 percent effective, regardless of what you do. What you need to focus on is getting it as close to 100 percent as you can.

I read another blog last night where someone was talking about Roland Barthes (remember his name, students from Visual Comm? One of the founders of Semiotics? No? <sigh>). Barthes said that once the story is written and the reader takes it over, in essence the writer is dead. That’s because the writer is not there to make sure the reader understands accurately what he or she was trying to say. It all comes down to the symbols used to convey the idea. And English–along with every other language–is not that effective in accurately conveying the idea. The end result is that two different readers will have separate interpretations of what the writer intended.

Did you ever read a book, then have a movie come out, only to see scenes and characters different than that movie portrayed them? That’s an example of this.

So what can the writer to do help the reader see what he or she is writing? Not to sound like a broken record, but the more crystal clear the image or scene is in the writer’s mind, the greater the likelihood that he or she will effectively communicate it.

So how do we see the story better? Visualization (daydreaming? meditation?). Reading. Charting on paper. In essence, what I am talking about is research. Know what you want to say, and how you want to say it.

I have a friend named Arthur Milward who used to write short stories for magazines, and do a remarkably good job at it. He was published in Reader’s Digest, Redbook, and many other magazines, getting paid thousands of dollars for each story. He used to tell me that he saw virtually every word and phrase for his story before he put it on paper. Then when he finally wrote, he ended up editing very little. I’m not to that point in my writing yet, and I suspect you aren’t either, but you get the point.

Another suggestion I’d like to pass on is the idea of continually gathering resource material. At Park City, one of the speakers told us to continually collect two things: floorplans and unique jobs. Both of those items help you make the location and characters unique. Having them before you help you see them to describe them.

Tomorrow I will talk to you about writing that first draft.

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One thought on “Seeing the story

  1. I really like the idea of collecting research material. I’m working on a fantasy novel, but understanding the workings of a medieval or renaissance economy, military, travel, etc. It’s daunting.

    You either don’t make it too big a thing (Tolkien) or you do it well (Robert Jordan). anything else isn’t an option. I don’t think I can avoid it, so I guess I must get me some knowledge.

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