April 18th, 2006

Stories: Separating the Good From the Great Pt. II

Yesterday I found an email waiting for me from one of my slush survivors that has been accepted for publication, this being Sarah Totton. She read yesterdays's post, and she raised some very interesting counter-points to it. I asked her if I could post her reply on my LJ, and today I got the thumbs up. So, without further adieu:

Hi Doug,
Yes, I've been reading your journal. I tried to post this comment directly on your page, but I'm not a livejournal member and it wouldn't let me. I just had to respond to your latest entry.

While I agree with what you're saying in principle...I'm not sure that most writers (okay, me) can even tell whether a story idea is a good one or a great one while it's still under construction. I don't think I can tell until it's on the page and in front of a trusted reader or workshop or editor. Just as an example, I was looking back through my old progress log entries (I keep a diary where I talk about how each story is going while I'm in the process of writing it) and I happened on the one I wrote right after I'd finished "A Fish Story" (and thanks again for passing it up to Shawna). I wrote: I think this story is too mean-spirited, and just not that great of a story. I don't think I can sell it.
I trunked that story after I wrote it. The only reason I even bothered to finish it was because I was daring myself to write or revise a new story every couple of weeks. I only took it out of the trunk because the deadline for Writers of the Future was coming up and I had nothing else to send them. It made the quarterfinals, so I figured, Hey, I guess it doesn't suck.



So here we have a logical counter-point to my post. I can't refute it. I won't. My system is working for me, but Sarah's is clearly working for her. The creative process is different for everyone. In this case, to use an analogy, it may be the difference between being near-sighted and far-sighted. Each of us needs different glasses to see our stories clearly. It sounds like Sarah uses a more organic process, getting inside (i.e. writing) the story in order to understand if it's something special. I, on the other hand, seem more analytical about the whole thing, taking a look at the outside shell, which tells me if there is anything worthwhile underneath. Man, I sound so superficial--don't hate me ladies. ;)

But I'm glad Sarah contacted me. Everyone has a different process, and too often writers (or editors) will tell people "This is the best/only way to do something." Rubbish. Perhaps it's the best/only way for them. But not everyone. Orson Scott Card writes an outline in advance. Guy Gavriel Kay makes it up as he goes along. George Martin has a plot, but it's all in his head. Three different approaches, and all of them have delivered stellar novels. So thank you Sarah for defending the other side of the coin . . .and everyone buy Realms of Fantasy when it publishes a "A Fish Story." I promise you laughs.