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01/10/2005 Archived Entry: "This is why I don't play war games"
Posted by CKL @ 03:29 PM PST

I'm pretty good at tactics, but not so much at strategy. This is something I need to work on in my writing. More on that later.

Two things reminded me of this particular strength and weakness during the past weekend. First, while on retreat with The Richter Scales, I played a couple games of poker. In the second game, I knocked out all of the other players but one, and then he cleaned my clock on the last hand. It was pure luck that he won that hand, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, I did well tactically-- winning hands and taking one player at a time-- but not strategically. James let me cull the field until it was just him and me, making the endgame much easier for him: winning against one opponent is easier than winning against many.

The other reminder was the second season premier of HBO's Carnivale, quite possibly the best damn show on cable television. The first season had moved fairly slowly, revealing bits and pieces of a larger mythology in a patient and calculated fashion. Several of those pieces came together in last night's episode, and it's clear that the creators of the show had much of it planned out far in advance-- in short, that they had always known more than they were telling the audience. This is one of the reasons I hated 24-- because it was obvious that the writers were just futzing around with no real plan or direction.

But it's also a weakness I recognize in my own writing. I'm great at dialogue and description, but not so good at structuring the overall narrative. Once I know what's going to happen, plot-wise, I tend to want to say it all at once, in a very linear and chronological fashion. That's not always the most interesting way to tell a story.

I also don't like rewriting, and in my mind, "rewriting" includes outlines and drafts. Which is bad, because it means once I've plotted out how the story is going to go, I feel on some level like it's already happened, and I lose interest in actually writing it. I admit it-- I'm more attuned to plot than character. But while I can wrap my head around building a character and then writing about him or her, I find it harder to intricately design the flow of a story and then proceed to actually write it out. I suppose that's not necessarily being bad at strategy, just bad at execution. But I often don't even take the time to plan; I just want to jump into writing, because it feels more like I'm actually doing something, accomplishing something.

More on rewrites (or lack thereof): For example, when I'm blogging, I tend to spew out a stream of consciousness in one burst. Then I read over the preview and hunt-and-peck to fix typos, polish a sentence here or there, maybe add to the introduction or conclusion. But I don't rewrite. I don't have a clear conceptual separation between the idea of what I'm writing and the actual words that end up on the page. Maybe that's the root of the problem: I need to be able to separate the story itself from the text that tells the story.

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