Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Here’s something that I don’t think is often talked about in writing books or writing magazines. I can’t recall it being mentioned in the writing classes I’ve taken, including the MFA workshops I was in when I was getting my Masters in Writing. I think there’s a certain atmosphere in most MFA programs that brands any talk about story as belonging to popular fiction and so from the wrong side of the tracks.

I don’t believe that. All kinds of fiction need story. The great writers of the past, with notable exceptions of course because great means doing uniquely powerful work and that breaks all rules, have also been good storytellers.

Anyway, be that as it may, I think the topic of INVENTION isn’t talked about much. Invention though can make a huge difference in the quality of work.

Now maybe at the sentence and language level invention is talked about. Inventive style and use of language is applauded. What I’m talking about though is coming up with inventive twists and turns of a story or inventive ideas that propel scenes or give characters a compelling otherness that’s hard to resist as a reader.

Maybe one difficulty of talking about it is that inventiveness seems to belong more on the side of talent than craft. To my mind though, like the use of language, while certainly partly innate to the writer, aspects of it can be encouraged.

Don’t be satisfied with obvious actions. Looks for places where characters might act in less obvious ways.

Allow yourself the freedom to wander wildly in a first draft when it comes to plot direction. You will, of course, go in many wrong directions and need to REVISE and REWRITE. Invention, by its nature, carries with it many failures. Ask any inventor. You will pay for your attempts, but those attempts may be the very thing that makes your story unique.


Anna-Maria Crum said...

You can be and should be inventive when plotting your story. I'm an outliner and I prefer to think of twists and doing the opposite of what is expected when I'm outlining my story. I'm also open to ideas while I'm writing my first draft, but I don't like to experiment with the plot once I've started writing. For me that's wasted time. I've already invested a lot of time in figuring out my story and I'm excited to write what I've planned. I think people who don't know their story experiment with their plot in the first draft. If that works for you, great. But people who outline should focus on invention when they outline.

Brian Yansky said...

That's interesting.

D.E. Malone said...

Totally agree, Brian. The first draft of my latest manuscript was very linear, very basic. I simply cannot plot every twist and turn, every nuance of a person's character which will, in turn, influence their motivations, during the initial draft. I go into that rough draft expecting to be surprised by the characters. They help me shape the plot, make it stronger, and I'm totally open to that.

Brian Yansky said...

That's the way I am. Dawn. That first draft is an exploration. I have a situation and character and then characters and they lead the way. The old adage that writing is rewriting is so true for me though. I'm constantly struggling to make connections and discover structure in later drafts.