Plotting Vs Pantsing – Differences in Style #9

 

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“Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.” – Stephen King

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett

“If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block.” – R L Stein

Well, if the title plotting vs pantsing hasn’t stoked a few fires, those quotes surely will have. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, plotting is planning your books before you write them and pantsing is “flying by the seat of your pants” aka winging it. However, whether you’ve been in the writing community long or only had a casual glance at authortube, the first thing you’ll notice whenever this discussion comes up is the (unnecessary) divisiveness of the debate. Many writers often feel attacked by the other side and can get super defensive… which is why I’d like to have a chill discussion about what the differences are and why both processes are equally cool. Now, I usually talk about outcomes rather than the actual process- which is why this is such a unique topic for me. Because I don’t think you can tell the difference just from observation. Let’s have a look at some famous examples of both and you’ll see why…

(NB I had a great deal of fun researching this, but a lot of these came from various sources/interviews/quotes, so forgive me if I’ve got any wrong- I’ve tried to include as many of these as possible at the bottom of the page so you can check for yourself)

Famous plotters:

J K Rowling

John Grisham

Sylvia Plath

Arthur Miller

Leigh Bardugo

R L Stein

Rainbow Rowell (semi-plotter)

Hilary Mantel (likes to storyboard)

Kazuo Ishiguro (hardcore plotter)

Ken Follett

Virginia Woolf

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Vladimir Nabokov

Joseph Heller

William Faulkner (go figure- you can’t achieve that level of obscurity without planning)

Marcel Proust

Famous pantsers:

George R R Martin (though famously coined the term gardener)

Laini Taylor

Stephen King

Tim Bowler

Margaret Atwood

Ray Bradbury

Pierce Brown

Neil Gaiman (prefers the gardener term)

Maas (natural pantser, but has had to plot)

James Joyce

Mark Twain

Ernest Hemmingway

If you can tell the difference at a glance, you must be a savant. Personally, I found a few surprises (some plot-light authors are on the planning side and there are most certainly complexly plotted stories on the pantser side).

Really though, the thing that came up a lot of the time during my research was “eh I kinda plan” or “eh I sorta wing it”. Schwab, for instance, referred to herself as a “connect-the-dots-er”. George R R Martin, one of the world’s leading “gardeners” famously gave the notes for his ending to showrunners. Joyce was a self-proclaimed pantser and yet he too did extensive research. And I read a fantastic post about all the ways plotting and pantsing overlap. This makes the most sense to me. I for one consider myself a hardcore plotter… and yet this is only true up to a point. Beat sheets are a joy-killer for me, I’ve pantsed a novella and I usually leave subplots/romances unplanned (which helps keep some parts a bit more dynamic). That’s why I think drawing a clear-cut line between the two is a little rigid. Especially as there are pros and cons to both…

Plotting upsides

One of the best things for me about knowing an ending is that it gives a clear goal for you to write towards. Personally, I find it keeps characters consistent, whilst also allowing for growth. If you know where a character has to end up and how it’s different from where they came from, you can chart a clear course. This also may allow for a smoother plot and maybe even a cleaner drafter (maybe). The genres I’d say this is ideal for is thrillers, mysteries and epics- because a pre-planned plot can help you weave interesting setups and even red herrings organically into the narrative. Though foreshadowing in tragedy doesn’t go amiss 😉 I’d also say, as Stein pointed out, it’s a great way to prevent writer’s block and can sooth any nervous starters. 

One of the misconceptions of plotting is that it doesn’t allow for deviation- therefore sucking all the creativity out of the project. Now, this obviously isn’t true in the sense that creativity and imagination has to happen at some stage in order for the story to work- it may just happen in the planning stage. However, I’d say for me (and many other plotters) I tend to think about it more as adding complexity- you haven’t taken anything away by putting a plan in place- you’ve just laid the foundations for you to build on (we’re back to that awesome architect metaphor!) Also, frankly, I’m pretty sure even the most diehard plotters deviate at some point. I don’t think anyone can get away without some aspect of discovery writing.

Plotting downsides

Unfortunately, though, there is the danger of pre-plotted stories becoming predictable. There is also the argument that it doesn’t leave room for inspiration (which I’d disagree with as a plotter- having a roadmap doesn’t ruin my enjoyment, especially since the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and you never really know where you’ll end up. Plus, creating plans can be a lot of fun in its own right). The most serious argument I have heard is that planned endings give you the danger of veering into propaganda- since you know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it (though, looking at the authors above, I think it’s fairly safe to say the danger is no stronger whichever path you choose). I’d say the biggest cause for concern is that sticking to a planned ending may not always be in the story’s best interest, as a narrative might shift organically over time (the best example of this being HIMYM’s forced ending).

Pantsing upsides

I do definitely see the upsides of pantsing (even if it fills me with utter dread). Because countless pantsers will tell you how thrilling this method is, how much fun they have and how it helps them keep their ideas fresh. It’s known for being open to the imagination and giving the writer as much of a wild ride as the reader. And the results are telling- there are some stellar authors who swear by pantsing. For some people, this invigorating process is certainly the way to go, which can give raw and powerful results.

Pantsing downsides

Not knowing what’s going to happen can certainly have its issues though. The fear would be that after a stellar opening, the story can fizzle out (I know I’ve read a few of those). I also think there is the potential for plots to come out of nowhere or feel random (the upside of this being that the universe is pretty random- so that gives it something of an edge in terms of realism over a heavily constructed story). There is a potential to come unstuck as well (although many plotters will tell you they have the same issue- *raises hand*- and there is always the option to plot/feel/stab your way out of any writing corner you’ve backed yourself into). I think the same final issue of forced endings comes into play- because this seems to be a pitfall for pantsers as well.

Ultimately, it’s not so important which method you choose, because the process doesn’t mark out the end result for greatness. These discussions always allow for the basic truth: all creatives have a different process. No two writers work the same. And, even more importantly, we must take stock of this simple fact:

all men must edit.png

Sources:

https://themillions.com/2016/07/planners-pantsers-write-novel.html

http://www.amreading.com/2016/09/18/what-are-plotters-and-pantsers-hint-j-k-rowling-is-one-and-stephen-king-is-the-other/

https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/549-plotters-vs-pantsers-can-you-guess-which-side-stephen-king-and-j-k-ro

https://thethousandlives.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/fierce-reads-san-diego-stop-leigh-bardugo-ava-dellaira-emmy-laybourne-and-jennifer-mathieu/

http://bookandlatte.com/2012/11/sarah-j-maas-how-i-write.html

http://www.lainitaylor.com/2013/07/

https://yawednesdays.com/2015/11/16/10-things-we-learned-about-rainbow-rowell-and-david-levithan/

Other posts in the series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

The Art of Fragmentation – Difference in Style #7

Subverting Expectations vs Wish Fulfilment – Differences in Style #8

What do you think? Do you think there are any upsides/downsides that I’ve missed? If you’re a writer, do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? Let me know in the comments!

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Subverting Expectations vs Wish Fulfilment – Differences in Style #8

 

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Normally, I do these posts because I’ve read a cool book recently or been writing something related or seen a craft video- not this day! For a change, I was inspired (and challenged) to do this because of my recent TV watching habits. Thanks to the shocker of an ending for Game of Thrones and the contrastingly amazing finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’ve been thinking a lot about how story may (or may not) stick the landing.

So what do I mean by wish fulfilment? Well, in the case of a comedy, this is when characters get exactly what they want/deserve. The baddies are punished, the goodies are rewarded. In a tragedy, the heroes suffer too, but we’re okay with that cos readers are masochists it’s *cathartic*. Basically, if a book does what it says on the tin, chances are it fits into this.

The only rare cases when this fails is in satire or if there’s been an implied twist on the tropes. A good example of this for me was in Shadow and Bone, which I felt held promise as being a fresh take on the fantasy genre, but ended up being conformist. That said, a lot of people loved that very traditional ending, so you can see how that gets subjective pretty fast 😉 There is also the issue of predictability- which I find a lot of readers are forgiving of- even in the thriller genre. What I will say is when this veers off into really dodgy territory is when a choice is made for “fanservice”- where the creator makes a decision purely to please fans- which ultimately backfires spectacularly. I often imagine misguided producers shrieking: “I was doing this to please you! I thought it was what you wanted! LOVE ME!” Let’s just say, I’m not a fan.

Moving on, I think we’ve heard a lot about subverting expectations lately because of Game of Thrones royally screwing up its ending. However, it might surprise non-fans to hear that Game of Thrones actually used to be the *BOMB* at this (back when the show was following GRRM’s books, that is). Spoilers if you plan to watch/read it, the Red Wedding in particular is my favourite example: yes, there was misdirection upto this point, but when you looked back you could see exactly how this was set up and how it was secretly the logical outcome for Robb’s story arc. Sure, it was a shock, because the characters involved didn’t see it coming, but a clever reader could’ve seen the writing on the wall. And yes, plotlines were abandoned because of it, but it not only made logical sense, it left you with an even greater sense of longing for what might have been AND managed to create dramatic consequences for the other players in the story. Essentially, subverting expectations enhanced the story in every way!

Sadly, subverting expectations won’t always work and the final season of Game of Thrones proved this unequivocally. There was very little setup in order for there to be payoff, often plotlines came out of nowhere, and there appeared to be times when the writers pivoted direction mid-story.

D and D we hope to avoid the expected.png

But of course, as George R R Martin says:

george r r martin plan.png

One of the biggest components for this failure is that the building blocks of character and story have to be in place in order for this to work. Sometimes you can get away with this in terms of tone, as with Carry On, indicating through jokes that this is a parody of Harry Potter; sometimes you have write hundreds of thousands of words before you can twist the story on its head. Point is, readers/viewers will be unhappy if a plot thread comes out of nowhere. Plus, there has to be a reason for doing this: humour is a good reason, challenging convention is another, entertaining the viewer also works… to an extent. Because if the audience suspects this is purely for shock value, they’ll ultimately be dissatisfied. Again, it all comes down to delivering that longed for catharsis.

Most of the time, things fall in the messy middle though. Endings that are bittersweet- like the emotionally charged victory of Lord of the Rings– can be equally as satisfying. Even things we think of as classic tragedies, like Romeo and Juliet, play into comedic tropes in order to subvert them (and ultimately ends up conforming to tragic conventions). Narrative arcs will generally allow for characters to rise and fall (in tragedy allowing for a moment of bliss and in comedy giving a time for despair). Very few books “flatline” (a distinct example being City of Dreadful Night– where the narrative remains bleak throughout). For instance, this is a useful source showing the rise and falls in six basic plots. And here’s my (entirely subjective and unscientific) graph of where a story might fall in terms of subverting or fulfilling expectations:

(where tragedies end in death and comedies end in marriage)

subvert expectations graph.png

Whether you entirely agree or disagree with where I’ve placed certain stories, hopefully you can see the difference in endings. And even after we’ve considered all of this, sometimes an ending can deliver for some fans and not others (as is the case with Harry Potter). Chances are there will be dissatisfied parties and I will say that there’s no pleasing everyone- and that’s not a bad thing! Really, there is no one way to stick the landing and we always have to consider that taste plays a part. And I haven’t even covered the difference plotting vs pantsing makes when it comes to endings… that’s a discussion for another time.

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

The Art of Fragmentation – Difference in Style #7

So what are your thoughts on the differences? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!

Genre snobbery is a bitch

 

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I feel like it’s a becoming a biannual tradition for me to point out “sorry, you don’t get to dictate taste”. Sadly, there’s a reason this keeps coming up: every so often a member of the literati pokes their head above the parapet to denigrate genre fiction. Today’s “inspiration” is a famous literary fiction author who decided to give genre fiction a go, only to (rather hilariously) state they don’t like that particular genre… cos that makes sense. Now, without naming names, this is almost part of the course for literary fiction writer’s foray into genre fiction- they assert “but I’m not a genre fiction writer” in the same way one might say “I’m not a prostitute”. Well, as a genre whore, I take offence to this kind of language 😉 Aside from the blatant hypocrisy, I don’t think genre snobs have quite thought this through…

spaceFor starters, there is unfrickin-believable-out-of-this-world genre fiction. One of the funniest parts of this person’s argument was that they didn’t think that genre fiction explored humanity with any depth- LOL! Clearly, they’ve never read genre fiction cos there are *far too many* examples for me to list. The crux of this criticism is that they seem to think you can’t simultaneously write well and develop your world building- which is about as logical as saying you can’t eat a banana and ice cream at the same time 😉 The two are not mutually exclusive (in fact they go together rather well). So, if you’re going to judge a book by its cover, the joke’s on you. Especially because…

the greatest of all timeToday’s “genre fiction” could easily be tomorrow’s classic. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but realism doesn’t always win out in the end or make it into the canon. And some genres (romance novels, gothic literature, even fantasy etc) do better than you think. Literary fiction stands the same chance of going down in history as one of the “greats” (regardless of whether the publisher slaps “modern classic” on the back or not).

you're not wrongThe customer may not always be right… but they’re not wrong! Let’s be real: you can’t be wrong about your own taste. Not only that, but most readers read genre fiction. The idea of going after the consumer is becoming increasingly popular- yet it doesn’t make it any less futile. A word to the wise- no one will be convinced to pick up your book just cos you said they shouldn’t pick up some other person’s book (in fact there’s a strong chance of reverse-psychology-ing them into picking up the one you told them to avoid).

party on dudesPlus, us genre sluts are having a lot more fun than the genre prudes. We’re not tied down by immature “you need to grow up” arguments levelled at adult YA readers; we’re not threatened by a bit of flirtation with genre bending books. We just dive straight into the whorehouse of endless tastes- otherwise known as every bookshop/library/personal collection ever- and glut ourselves on whatever’s on offer. Gotta say it’s liberating to let go of your inhibitions and just join the party. Don’t be shy, you know you want to 😉

Im outThat said, if you’re still taking yourself too seriously after that analogy, I have one last truthbomb to drop: no one is the GOD EMPEROR OVERLORD of taste. No one’s taste is infallible; no one gets to act like an authoritarian hack when it comes to literature. And I’m not gonna apologise if that’s hurt any egomaniac’s feelings for saying that. I’d say “anyone who truly believes that they know best about what people should be reading needs to take a long hard look in the mirror”, but that’s probably what they do all day. I’m sure their hand is sore from patting themselves on the back 24/7. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t have much time for anyone who thinks like this anymore 😉

And with that, I’d like to ask you guys what you think of genre snobbery? And are you a genre whore like me? Let me know in the comments!

Addressing “Entitled” Fans

 

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Am I the only one that thinks this whole “entitled fans” debate is getting old already? For those of you who haven’t seen this phrase bandied about, well first of all lucky you, and second of all it’s basically becoming a catch-all phrase to describe disgruntled fans. A couple of years ago it was used to describe Star Wars fans for not lapping up the trash that was The Last Jedi; more recently it’s been dug up again to sling at those of us who are unhappy with the ending of Game of Thrones (more specifically for a petition that I don’t feel the need to go into cos it’s much the same as any other petition on the planet).

A lot of the time, this argument seems to be a way to shut down criticism- which is never a good look for a creator. Aside from the fact it often seems like people with MASSIVE platforms going after the little guy, let’s just say throwing your weight around shouting “HOW DARE YOU CRITICISE ME FOOLISH MORTAL” makes something else seem a little bit inflated… 😉

That said, the creator isn’t necessarily wrong for standing up for themselves. After all, if they had a vision for their work and the audience doesn’t like it, that’s not their fault, right? And harassing the author/creator/whatever isn’t okay. No matter how much we might love something, we don’t have ownership of it. And in the words of Mick Jagger:

you can't always get what you want

So, I actually do get that a creator really shouldn’t have to do what their audience wants. That’s why I say REVIEWS ARE FOR READERS– they’re made after the fact and aren’t designed to make the author change their ways. Still, while it may be true that “art is not a democracy”, it doesn’t then follow that “ergo I never have to listen to criticism”. Nor is “I don’t have to listen to you because you’re just a fan” a great argument. Because here’s a little secret: FANS WANT THE PROPERTIES THEY LOVE TO SUCCEED. That’s why they’ve poured their time/money/hearts/souls into these projects. And to forget that is to forget what made success possible.

This is particularly significant when looking at modern, commercial art. When we’re talking about huge franchises like Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Harry Potter etc, we’re not talking about its creation in a vacuum. These hugely successful properties owe more than a little to their fans. The fact is, shows/movies/books even are being treated more like products; likewise, creators have been willing to treat fans more like customers. And that’s fine- but then it doesn’t stand for writers/producers to still say “it’s art, we can do whatever we want!” Because you can’t expect to act that way when taking people’s money AND get no complaints if you miss-market said product. As a fan, I might be more forgiving if things don’t pan out exactly as I want; as a customer, I won’t be as happy. For instance, if I go into a restaurant and order pizza and you give me ice cream, I’m not going to be happy (no matter how much I love both). Customers rarely want subverted expectations. Which brings me onto one of the biggest areas of debate…

elephants game of thronesNow, here’s the thing: subverted expectations aren’t always a bad thing. Game of Thrones in particular was known for it- and known for doing it well. There are times when I wish the creator had gone the unexpected route. And some art exists in that beautifully comedic and meaningful sphere where art breaks all the rules. Some of my favourite works exist in this bubble: Guards, Guards, Carry On and even the Alan Partridge books! Fans don’t always want to be serviced, if you know what I mean 😉 But, in the case of the elephant (or lack thereof) in the room/Seven Kingdoms, trying a bold manoeuvre like subverting expectations has to be well executed.

Funnily enough, a lot of criticism like this is actually fairly technical. Mary Sues, subverted expectations, fanservice are all terms that existed for a long time- and yet they’re being brushed aside for causing “offence”. Ironically, this feeds into the idea that there is a right and wrong reason to criticise art nowadays (or to criticise criticism). With call out culture waiting in the wings, (often verified) journalists are able to rile people up and simultaneously forbid regular consumers from questioning creative “genius”. This doesn’t seem like they have the audience’s best interests at heart: it seems like thinly veiled elitism, pulling up the drawbridge and gatekeeping competition.

That could just be my sceptical brain going into overdrive though 😉 To be on the safe side, let’s just engage in honest discussions, not resort to stifling conversations by throwing around ad hominems and stop calling fans “entitled” for voicing opinions.

So, what do you think of the “entitled fans” debate? Do you think fans go to far? How do you think creators should respond? Let me know in the comments!

Misconceptions of Negative Reviews

 

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A few weeks ago, I saw something that has become the norm online: a famous author (who shall remain unnamed) saying why people shouldn’t write negative reviews. Now, not only is *criticising criticism pretty hypocritical*, it also comes across as someone with a fair amount of power trying to stifle conversation- and let’s just say I don’t approve. But going beyond this individual’s fame and success, there are a lot of people who hold similar views. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people choosing to only do positive reviews, but I think negative reviews get a bad rap. Sometimes I just think people don’t understand why people do them and assume motives that aren’t there. So, I thought I’d break down where I reckon these misconceptions are coming from:

meanMisconception #1: Critical reviewers are MEAN. Well, that could be true, who knows? 😉 Just kidding- I think this assumption is reading wayyy too much into things. Beyond the fact it’s probably not a good idea to psychoanalyse strangers on the internet, I also think that it’s not taking into consideration that people are different and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some reviewers are blunter than others, some are snarkier, some are funnier- because that’s their personality. Not to go all Big Five Personality on y’all, but (and I can’t believe I have to point this out) being more agreeable (for instance) doesn’t make you inherently a better person. For goodness sakes- you don’t have to like everyone’s way of doing things, yet I think we can all agree that how you review isn’t the next Great Moral Debate!

the devil hocus pocusMisconception #2: We want to upset authors. Also known as the “reviews are meant to help you improve” idea. Ermmm no. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: reviews are for READERS! That means whether the review is positive or negative, it’s not designed for the author. Frankly, I’m too shy to @ authors when I’m being entirely positive- but I definitely would never do that if I had even a smidge of criticism there.

never happyMisconception #3: We’re hard to please… okay this one is totally possible. And I did see a really great video about critical reviews, which suggested there’s a possibility you’re reading the wrong books for you 😉 HOWEVER, while this could be true, most reviewers will have a mixed bag. I know I do. And the thing is, even positive reviews can hold criticism- which leads me onto…

throw booksMisconception #4: We don’t love books. Pahahaha- so because we don’t like your book, we can’t like any books?! I mean, this is just plain silly. Why dedicate hours and hours to a passion if we secretly don’t like it? Really though, this feeds into the idea that we can read *everything* *all the time*- which is daft. Encouraging people to read endlessly is preposterous. So much so that even positive reviews should point out the downsides- and vice versa. For instance, while some people are put off by slow books, I’ll be perfectly happy to give it a try. Even when I’m gushing, I don’t aim for mindless POSITIVITY- for me it’s primarily about getting people to be able to find the right book for them. Sure, this isn’t always possible, but it’s worth a try!

stop reading

Almost didn’t put this meme in cos it personally offends me!

Misconception #5: Negative reviews are to stop you reading! Again, negative reviews are often pretty nuanced. They’re written to explain why someone may/may not want to read something; they’re not explicitly designed to deprive other people of pleasure. A great review helps readers make informed decisions (see above about not having the time to read everything ever written). BTW people who read reviews also aren’t braindead- *SHOCKER* readers are smart and can make up their own minds whether to trust the reviewer thank-you-very-much! As someone who watched and read reviews long before I got into doing it myself, I think it’s safe to say I know how to read a review without losing my sense of self. It’s quite possible to see a negative review and say “I’m going to read it anyway!” Which brings me onto…

im-right-youre-wrongMisconception #6: We think WHAT WE SAY GOES! We’re not gods or always right (that’s why I did a post about how not to review). Reviews are biased, they’re not objective. You don’t have to listen to them all the time and you can come away thinking something completely different.

Misconception #7: We’re playing 4D chess… Cos right now there is this idea that you will get ALL THE VIEWS if you get a little snarky. While I don’t deny this can be the case for some people, I’d say I have the same stats on negative and positive pieces. Plus, this is a good opportunity to come full circle in the piece and say PEOPLE ARE A BIT MORE COMPLEX THAN THAT. You can’t just bottle up people’s reasons for doing things in simple “oh they’re just looking for attention” terms. I for one didn’t start my blog for just one reason (and I can tell you when I started attention wasn’t even a remote possibility on my radar). So I think it’s time to finish off my piece with some age old wisdom:

when you assume

And with that I’d like to know what you think- do you reckon people have misconceptions about negative reviews? Or do you think any of these are spot on? Let me know in the comments!

Rocking the rainy day reads!

 

orangutan in rain umbrella

Look at me being all British, talking about the weather. And for a whole post as well- you’re in for a real treat 😉 Obviously cos I’m a Brit, when the topic of “rainy day reads” came up for Top Ten Tuesday, I thought it was excellent timing: it’s Spring. In England. Need I say more?

I also noticed that it was really cool how everyone’s answers seemed as changeable as the weather. Which makes sense- what makes one person feel cosy won’t work for another. And I was struck, as if by lightning, how great it is that we can all show off our varied tastes in this way. So, I decided to throw my brolly into the ring and share some of the things I like to read on a rainy day:

(yes I am not-so-sneakily doing this meme weeks late and on the wrong day 😉 )

LONNNNG BOOKS

war and peace

It seems like a good time to catch up on my reading, so maybe it’s time to tackle one of those hefty tomes!

Immersive Reads

six of crows duology

Otherwise, I like the books that really transport me to other worlds, that build a picture from scratch, that take me to far off and well imagined lands.

Long AND Immersive Books

mistborn series

Of course there are lots of books that fulfil both of those categories really nicely.

Something to reflect the GLOOM

wicked deep

On a rainy day, I really like the books that bring a level of *atmosphere* to the table.

***SUSPENSE***

rebecca

If I can’t go outside, I want something that’s really going to capture my attention and keep me glued to the page.

Urban Fantasy/Magical Realism

raven boys

This is another genre full of atmosphere and cool world building- and I especially love that feeling of being connected to the real world, while dipping my toes into fantasy.

Creepy worlds (especially dystopias)

hunger games

When the weather is grim, it seems like a good time to delve deeper in to dark recesses of the human mind… or I could go for something totally different like:

All the classics!

jane eyre

I don’t know why, but classics give me a cosy feel. Maybe it’s connecting to a time gone by or maybe it’s the abundance of pathetic fallacy in books like Jane Eyre 😉

Rereads

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover

Nothing says cosy to me like a beloved book I’ve read so many times the pages are falling out! Perfect for feeling all warm inside!

So what about you- what’s your rainy day read? Long books, short books, or the random ramblings of a monkey? 😉 Let me know whatever you’re thinking in the comments!

The Art of Fragmentation – Differences in Style #7

 

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Wow it really has been forever since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? To be precise, it’s been 6 months. I feel like this is becoming a biannual thing at this point- but ho hum, this was only ever supposed to be a casual sort of series, talking about how all different writing styles are valid, so I don’t suppose there needs to be a time limit on that. And since the idea of this series has always been to talk about how writing styles are rarely “good” or “bad”, I reckon it’s appropriate that I’m returning today with one of the most divisive topics of all: the art of fragmentation.

Because technically speaking using fragments in writing is not grammatically correct. Quickly defined, a fragment is a verbless sentence. But I also like to think of it as when a sentence is literally fragmented on a page, in a sort of image poem style, the words dissolving into nothing. Such as…

“Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,

then from my eyes,

my ears, 

my mouth.” 

We Were Liars, e lockhart

If you use a fragment, chances are your Word Doc (or whatever you’re using) will put a glaring red line under it telling you CHANGE IT NOW OR WE’LL LEAVE A DEMONIC CROSS ON YOUR SPELLCHECK. See, there’s a reason your English teacher told you not to use them, they were only trying to help you 😉

But *controversial opinion time*- this argument doesn’t wash with me. Now, I am hardly telling you to throw out the grammar rule book (quelle horreur!); what I am saying is that there may be reasons you can bend them a little. Observe:

van gogh cafe

Here, Van Gogh does something very interesting with perspective. He takes the overhang and moves the line where it falls so that the viewer feels like they are inside the painting. Of course, this is a completely inaccurate and impossible angle, and by rights shouldn’t work at all AND YET it is part of this artistry that makes the painting so compelling. Even better, there is evidence that Van Gogh knew EXACTLY what he was doing here- in his letters to his brother, he drew many of the subjects of his paintings (including the café) often with the correct perspective.

van gogh letter

Not my favourite example (cos I can’t get all the images I want from an exhibition I saw a decade ago) but it does show that Van Gogh did in fact know how to draw houses correctly – *surprise surprise*

Point is, Van Gogh understood precisely how perspective was supposed to work… altering it to suit the effect he was trying to achieve. Thus, this is a prime example of knowing the rule in order to break it.

My point is not just that rules are made to be broken- it’s that without pushing the boundaries art wouldn’t be the same. I’m not saying we’re all Van Goghs, but that if we always shout down innovation there won’t be any Van Goghs (ooh look at me being all self-referential to my old Difference in Style post about innovation 😉 )

So, I hear you ask, what makes fragmentation an interesting artistic choice? Well, quite simply because it can create a compelling voice, mood or tone. It’s particularly useful in first person povs and writing dialogue. Here’s some of the reasons why (and when) it works well:

–          Fragmentation can break up standard speech and make it seem more natural. I’ve heard some people saying dialogue should be written as if there’s an eavesdropper- but here’s the thing, even if you’ve seen the most adept speaker interviewed, chances are at some point they’ve given short, snippy answers. Simply put, we don’t speak grammatically all the time.

–          It can be used to denote trauma or characterise someone as unstable. This is often a huge element in YA and writing authentic teen voices (cos if you’ve ever met/seen/been a teen, you’ll know they don’t speak perfectly). Also, fragmentation frequently appears if you choose to mix things up with an unreliable narrator. Not to get into my whole *unreliable narrators are awesome* view again, the reason fragmentation is a good choice here is that it literally reflects the incoherent or untrustworthy voice of the narrator. To put it simply, if you see lots of fragmentation, you know something’s up with the narrator. It can be the first clue that the mc has unresolved issues.

For me personally, I’ve found many wonderful books that use extensive fragmentation in an artistic and original way. My take is this can feel like narrative poetry. I have found a few beautiful pieces of work that employ this technique, some of my favourite examples being:

While that’s my view, there is plenty of arguments out there to use it sparingly, and that’s more than fair enough. Obviously, there’s a lot like that, so here’s just a handful that spring to mind:

Of course, it’s perfectly okay to not like it at all- you’re on the right side of grammar history 😉 Frankly, the point of this series has always been that it’s a-okay to have different tastes and embrace whatever style suits you best. For more posts like this, feel free to check out the other articles in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

So where do you fall on the fragmentation debate: sparingly, lots-of-it-please or not at all? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!