Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Vive le FRAUD!

So it's first Wednesday, right? And you all know what that means...

Yeah... me and my 800 best friends... feeling insecure... but feeling insecure TOGETHER, so that is good. I encourage you to get out there and visit oodles of insecure writers today to make them feel better.

As for the topic HERE?

IMPOSTER SYNDROME

If you haven't had it yet, don't worry. It's coming. Most of us have survived it several times over. Some of us have been debilitated for a while, but mostly we get past it and keep going.

This writer blogging circle is SO amazing, but it CAN be the source of some of this angst.


I remember my first time... the topic? Snowflake plotting.

I read the blog and found myself more confused than anything. It was a ringing endorsement on how STRONG her book was because she'd used this method that I couldn't make heads or tails of. I tried to understand what I was missing, but it mostly just really irritated me. (seems like a lot of work, eh? but the bigger problem is by day I am a statistician and my big analytic brain can go all hulk and become surprisingly DULL when I try too hard in a creative domain)

This has happened for the Hero's Journey. Character Arcs. Themes. (do my novels have themes? Um... what?)

And then things like this article I came across yesterday cross my screen... This is an interview with a half dozen VERY famous authors on their use of symbolism.

Symbolism Interview

You know how many of them use symbolism intentionally? John Updike. Do I want to write like John Updike. NO. Mostly because I take the man to be a misanthrope based on his characters--though his arrogance in the interview supports that conclusion "you can't write a classic without symbolism"--um... yeah (frankly I'd rather take my cues from Bradbury, but thanks), but never mind. The REAL point (HA!  GOT YA, because I HAVE ONE!) is for SOME PEOPLE intentional adoption of very meticulous techniques is REALLY helpful, and more power to them. If you do any or all of these things that is FABULOUS, but the process is DIFFERENT for every last one of us and we should never be hard on ourselves (or anyone else) for NOT using something when it seems to in fact get in the way. And if we DO use them, we should take caution to make sure the TECHNIQUE doesn't overshadow the STORY (I've seen this—it's a bit painful, but I've also seen ALL of these put to great use.)

TRY STUFF. If something works, GREAT. If it doesn't, it just is a mismatched tool for you—nothing more--not your fault, doesn't make you a fraud. I have an MS in psychology. I like to think that whole character arc thing is just how I see characters—they grow and change—sometimes that is a result of plot, sometimes a cause, sometimes it is just a lovely side story. But like most of these guys interviewed... I'd prefer my themes and symbolism to occur organically. Of course they will happen. And isn't it almost more beautiful when a reader reads your work and comes up with a theme you never noticed (it really makes you feel smart, but it also makes your work three dimensional). And it just was a lovely accident.

37 comments:

M.J. Fifield said...

I once had a writing professor who gushed over a story I had written because the symbolism I had used was just outstanding. I was all, "Yeah...about that..." because there had been absolutely no symbolism in mind when I wrote it.

I like the TRY STUFF philosophy, and I try to incorporate it into my writing. It doesn't always work out, but I'll never know until I experiment a little.

Nick Wilford said...

Yeah, what works for one might not work for another. You can't just say this is how you do it and everyone should do it that way. I think trying to shoehorn symbolism in sounds like a bad idea, if it's there then great, but I think most of us focus on the story first. Symbolism is a byproduct and might be something interpreted by the reader, not even meant by the writer.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Such an important point! We don't have to use a particular method in our writing...just whatever works.

Sometimes I'll use others' techniques, but only in either the outlining or editing phases. When I'm writing, that stuff just distracts me or makes me freeze up.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Good post, Hart! There was a point in time when I felt absolutely paralyzed by all the writing "should's" and "have to's" out there. I figured out the TRY IT philosophy awhile back and it totally freed me up to find my own way, my own writing process.

Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

Sarah Ahiers said...

i usually use the first 4-5 steps of the snowflake method. But man, try to get me to think about the Hero's Journey and i am out.

I have thought about giving Blake Snyder's beat sheet a try, though

ViolaNut said...

I was at a book signing once (I won't name the author) and there were a bunch of college students in the audience - the two seated in front of me were discussing their lit professor and how she'd offered extra credit to students who attended. During the Q&A, one of them asked, "My professor says that [character] having a blue bedroom symbolizes his loneliness, is that true?" The author's priceless reply: "No. I just like blue. Your professor is full of $#!+." :-D

Then there was the writing teacher I had in college who gushed all over the poem I turned in: the structure, the technique! - and half the class had seen me scribble it down with my notebook held on my friend's back in the elevator on the way to said class. :-P (It was a really slow elevator, but still.) We pretty much lost all respect for her at that point.

Diane Burton said...

Yikes! Blogger ate my comment. Better than the dog, I guess. Anyway, good advice. Find what works for you--not someone else. Best wishes.

Diane Burton said...

Hey, good advice about trying stuff. We all need to find what works for us--not someone else. Best wishes.

Donna B. McNicol said...

So very, very true! I read for escapism, I write so people can escape. I don't use symbolism, I don't embed deep hidden meanings and I don't preach. If someone likes my writing, wonderful! If not, there are a lot of other books out there.

Be glad we aren't like those that research writing for so long that they never write anything!

D.B. McNicol
Romance & Mystery...writing my life

Melissa said...

I agree. Themes will come across as subtle and enjoyable if they're allowed to develop on their own. If you go into it trying to make it work, it'll come across as heavy handed.

Great post! :)
IWSG #224 until Alex culls the list again.

Holli Moncrieff said...

I've always laughed at those English classes in high school where all this symbolism and "themes" are projected onto an author's books. "Lord of the Flies" is a great example--pretty much every object in that book is supposed to symbolize something deep and profound.

I laughed because I was 99.9% sure that the author had told the story he was itching to tell, period. The symbolism and themes? Created years later by scores of academics who wanted to feel smart.

Arlee Bird said...

I do believe there is symbolism in all works of fiction, but I don't think it's usually intentional. My view is that it's similar to dream symbolism. Dreams and stories both come from subconscious realms and they interpret or evaluate waking life data in our lives. But if a writer strives to write with the symbolism in mind then I think it turns into an awkward story.

Leave the symbolism to psychotherapists and literary scholars. It can be fun to discuss and debate, but symbolism shouldn't interfere with enjoyment of reading.

Most of the walls in my house are white. Hmmm--I wonder what that symbolizes? That's the color they were when I moved here. If I write a story where my house is the setting, should I change the colors of the rooms?

Lee
An A to Z Co-Host
Tossing It Out

Teresa Powell Coltrin said...

There is so much that goes into writing that no certain formula or way for writing is going to be for every writer.

Oh by the way, I feel like a fake in all aspects of my life and especially fearful when others think I'm an expert. HA!

ReflectionsbyCindy said...

Couldn't agree more. What works for one person doesn't mean will work for someone else.
I'm a discovery writer and prefer to see where my characters want the story to go.
lucindawhitney.com

Chemist Ken said...

Yeah, I use to worry about trying to match the way others wrote their stories, until I realized that no one agreed on how to do it. Go ahead and read how others do it, but only keep the stuff that seems right to you.

mooderino said...

I think some people can fall in love with a particular way of doing things and it spills over into how they think other people should be doing their thing. They forget about all the terrible books written in the pursuit of style over content.

mood
Moody Writing

Fundy Blue said...

Very interesting post, Hart! Can I say I love your name? Hart ~ for me it symbolizes the human heart and my spirit muley deer that I love to hunt with my camera. I think each writer must write from an authentic place. He or she must write however that works for him or her. I so get the Imposter Syndrome!
Have a good one!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

We all write differently. What works for one won't work for all.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never did understand that snowflake theory...

Angeline Trevena said...

I think I suffer imposter syndrome on a regular basis. Grammar's my thing. People are rattling on about all these rules, and using words I don't understand, and that's when I feel like an imposter. I write what sounds right, I don't know all the technical ins and outs of it all. I really must pull my finger out and do an English Language course sometime soon...

Mary Aalgaard said...

I believe that ALL of the perceived symbolism in my play was on accident. It was funny. The director/actor would point it out, and I's say, "Oh, I didn't that that's what I was doing." And, you're right, we can read about all the tricks of the trade, but we have to keep in mind what works for us, and doesn't. Take what you like and leave the rest. Looks like you're having success without worrying too much about what's "in."
Play off the Page

Juneta Key said...

Great post. The best part was the last comment

"And isn't it almost more beautiful when a reader reads your work and comes up with a theme you never noticed (it really makes you feel smart, but it also makes your work three dimensional). And it just was a lovely accident."

It is a fine line between arrogance and originality, also in having a working formula and feeling your way through it. A comment like that from a reader is honest and meaningful in that you are doing something right.

Thanks for sharing. Happy Writings.

Juneta at Writer's Gambit

Elizabeth Hein said...

I love your TRY STUFF philosophy. And, don't knock your psychology background. You can probably map out an authentic character arc in your sleep. We all bring our unique talents to the page. That's how the world gains fabulous new books.
Elizabeth Hein - Scribbling in the Storage Room

Lynda R Young said...

Yep, I totally agree. We should try new techniques, but it's okay if they don't work because everyone is different. It's just a matter of finding what does work.

Julie Musil said...

Funny you mention the Snowflake method. I actually like it...until about the last stage. So I use it until the point where I don't like it, and by then I have a decent chunk of work I can use.

I totally agree--we must do what works for us! And if some accidental awesome comes of it, that's great.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Hart, when I started blogging, I was swamped with so much information on the different methods of plotting and writing, it bogged me down. For a few days I went crazy incorporating them into my writing. I think we should just stick to what works for each one of us.

Helena said...

I've never heard of the snowflake method, and somehow I've managed to get this far in my literary life (such as it is) without it. And yes, Updike does come across as a misogynist and a misanthrope, for that matter.

Funny thing is, I've used symbolism, foreshadowing, themes and other literary devices in my stories, and I can testify that they're easy to pull off and don't take any real skill, in fact they're kind of just gimmicks. So it's a joke that these are the things emphasized by alleged literary "experts." What is in reality very tough is writing a good solid story with great characters and getting the pacing just right. In other words, what they can't teach in English classes is what readers want to read.

Donna Hole said...

I'm pretty good at the "try stuff" concept. My career started in Drug and Alcohol treatment and the philosophy there is "take it all in, use what you can, toss the rest."

Works for writing too.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Goodness gracious thank you. I'm like the worst when it comes to this stuff. I don't write like that. It just comes to me. I don't plot, I don't have any idea where the story is going, it just happens or it doesn't. So glad to hear I'm not crazy!
Thank you.

And, thank you for your support.
Heather

Walter Knight said...

Mel Brooks suggests steal as much material as you can.

Stephanie Faris said...

I love the plotting bunny. I need one of those to do my plotting for me! Someone once told me my writing was funny--and I never intended it to be. Maybe sometimes we insert symbolism without even realizing it!

VR Barkowski said...

Love this post, Hart. I still remember analyzing the symbolism in A Separate Peace in high school. It ruined the book for me. The consistent themes in my work are there because of who I am, not because I intentionally insert them. Organic is the perfect word.

I lose respect for any writer, no matter how successful, who says you must write this way,. They are clearly blinded by their own perceived light.

Candilynn Fite said...

Definitely. What's good for me, may not be good for the next guy. You gotta find what works for you and run with it. :D

SittieCates said...

Great post! Yeah, I agree. Sometimes there are stories that show other themes that you didn't notice before.

Oh, thanks for visiting my blog, by the way! Appreciate it. :-)

planetpailly said...

I think it's really important that, once you develop a process that works for you, to stick to it and resist any efforts to change it except perhaps in minor ways.

Southpaw said...

I've tried to read through the snowflake method but my eyes glaze over. So, yeah, I don't get it.

Jan Morrison said...

Ya! Try stuff! Pick it up, try it on, have a look in the mirror and then either wear it or toss it back on the rack. Plot arcs,snowflakes, outlining, writing from the end - tried it and tossed it. Hero's Journey, the balcony and the floor, mindmapping, writing lots of different synopsis AFTER I write the whole story - yep, kept them - wear them sometimes but not all the time. We are all different and we contain multitudes. yum, yuck, carry on.