The Premeditator, The Indecisive Shopper, and The Stingy Shopper.
Last week I graced you with my intellectual story about salt and pepper shakers (Remember: Mr. Muscles). This post is part 2 of shopping style and what that has to do with writing style. In part 1, I imparted the story about my husband refusing to let me buy the most amazing salt and pepper shaker in the galaxy. Revenge was served a short time afterward when my cousin bought me these lovely salt and pepper shakers.
My husband lies somewhere between the premeditator and the stingy shopper. This man will spend weeks planning a purchase, shopping around online, reading up on what he’s planning on buying, and quizzing friends. He hates spending money. I swear that he is the lovechild of Scrooge and Spock. Often he will look at me, raise one eyebrow and murmur “I find that highly illogical.” If he were a writer, he would definitely have a meticulous and thorough outline for his story.
If you are a premeditator, then you have a plan for your novel well before you start writing. Premeditators will spend a considerable amount of time organizing, pre-writing, structuring, researching, and outlining their story. Often, the premeditator does not end up with a ton of drafts. They put so much effort into getting it right the first time that they don’t have to do a lot of editing.
Pros: Falling into the “sentimental” classification of writing (see Orhan Pamuk’s book, The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist for more on this), the premeditator puts a tremendous amount of thought into the method and techniques used to create the story. Faulkner is an excellent example of the kind of forethought that goes into his writing process. In The Sound and The Fury he is careful to depict the novel as accurately as possible through his narrators and the structure varies differently as the POV moves from one character to the next.
Cons: Improvision can be tough for the premeditator. When they get stuck, they really get stuck. Sometimes the deliberateness with which they write can make their story sound artificial and hollow, so they need to be careful not to be too rigid. Also, their writing process takes quite a bit of time and effort. I had a friend in graduate school who would spend hours just searching for the right word. Need some inspiration? Try out Eliot’s The Hollow Men or check out Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds”.
- Spend some time refining your process and eliminating the pieces that don’t contribute to your writing. Do you benefit from a character sketch? Do you find an outline essential? Do you diagram each scene before writing it? Find what works, ditch what doesn’t.
- Try not to get stuck on words/structure/stuff you can go back and edit later. Create a tag for your writing so that you can easily find those parts and then let it go and keep writing (breathing exercises might help with this).
- There are some great worksheets and templates for diagraming, organizing and planning. Here are a couple of sites to get you started:
The Stingy Shopper
Like the premeditator, everything the stingy shopper puts onto the page is deliberate and planned. The stingy shopper does not like extra things, though. If they had a mantra, it would be “Just the facts, ma’am.” This type of writer is all about bones and subtext, and there is a lot that is implied. Often, these are some of the most fun works to read, if you’re up to the challenge because they engage you more as a reader.
Pros: Falling into the “sentimental” classification of writing (see Orhan Pamuk’s book, The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist for more on this), the stingy shopper counts on his or her structure and method to help tell the story. Hemingway’s novels are an excellent example of compact, surface type of writing. If there is a simpler way to say something, then that is how it is written. His writing creates a surface, but there is depth, unsaid but implied. Read “The Old Man at the Bridge” to get a better sense of this stingy (but beautiful) writing.
Cons: Sometimes too much gets cut, and the writing becomes flat and difficult to understand. These writers often are accused of taking the emotion out of the story, although if done correctly the emotion becomes part of the subtext. If you are shooting for a long manuscript, you are going to struggle. Need some inspiration? Check out Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction.
- If you are going to write in this style, you have to be deliberate. Everything you include must be intentional.
- Practice showing instead of telling.
- Preplan your subtext. What do you want your readers to intuit? What are you trying to build beneath the surface of your writing?
The Indecisive Shopper
The Indecisive shopper wanders the aisles, places things in their cart, panics, and then ditches everything and runs from the store. This kind of writer has a really hard time figuring out what they want to write and how they want to write it. Often, they have dozens of half started manuscripts lying around (I have 28 half started and probably another 15 outlines that never grew into anything). This is a common writing style for all new writers, regardless of any other styles you fall into. The indecisive shopper is a formative stage or one we get stuck in when we don’t quite know where we are going. As a result, I have not listed pros or cons for this, only some tips to get you out of the rut.
- Start by completing a thorough character sketch for your protagonist and antagonist. Having a good backstory and idea of who they are can give you direction for the story. Here’s yet another website with info on how to do this: http://www.fiction-writers-mentor.com/writing-character-sketches/
- Try the “if this, then what” format for creating a basic outline for your story or a scene. You could create multiple branches on this and follow several what-ifs and then choose the branch that creates the most conflict. If my character loses her purse, what happens next? She’s driving down the road and starts having an asthma attack, but her inhaler is in the purse. Then what? She keeps an extra inhaler in the glove box, so she reaches for that, causing her to swerve on the road. Then what? She drops the inhaler when her tire hits the gravel on the side of the road? Then what? She manages to get her inhaler, but she gets pulled over because she’s driving erratically. Then what? (see how you could keep going?)
- Keep a “Cut Document” to save parts that you cut out of your writing, just in case.
That wraps up my dialogue about writing style! I will leave you with one final thought before I go: