Saturday, October 06, 2012

Different types of fiction writers

Having jumped into reading quite a bit of poetry of late, something generally unknown to me because I'm not much of a lover of poetry, it has dawned on me there are two basic types of fiction writers.

There are poets, and then there are storytellers.

For poets, the words are key, are often the most important factor. For storytellers, words are merely tools used to channel and propel the story.

Now obviously one could argue there are other, different types of writers. I'm not going into all that. And one could also argue that most writers are not completely, 100 hundred percent poet or storyteller, but a mix of the two, and I think there's a lot of truth in that.

For instance, I am a storyteller. If I broke things down into percentages, I'd say I'm about 95 percent storyteller and maybe five percent poet. I do not spend hours upon hours focusing upon my word use. I get the story out and then go back for edits, and even when editing it's not likely I'll change out a simple word for something one would have to look up in the dictionary. That's how I write, and mostly what I prefer to read, at least for pleasure reading.

Looking at famous authors, I'd say Stephen King is mostly storyteller. Tolkien is about half and half, though I think he leans toward the poet side somewhat, and I'd say Neil Gaiman is about the same. James Joyce was heavy on the poet side of things. Hemingway, too, I think leaned toward the poet, though terse in his word usage.

Today I would think the storyteller is more common, or at least more popular in general reading circles, than is the poet. That was not necessarily the case a century or two ago.

For me, for my interests, story is key. Words are but a tool, a wheelbarrow to shuffle along the story.

I really first noticed this about myself about a dozen years ago when I was the game master for a D&D game I was running for a number of friends. While such a game has its mechanics and rules, I didn't always find it necessary to stick with the strict rules and game mechanics. Again, for me, the story was of import, the story I was telling with the players. For example, if a single roll of my dice would kill off a character at a given moment, I didn't necessarily tell the truth about my dice roll, allowing the character to live. It wasn't that I was feeling sorry for the players or the characters, but a matter of how such a death would affect the story. If it would have been a grand death, one worthy of a true hero, I would usually go ahead and let the character be slain, but if the death did not serve the story, then I saved the character to die another day. This is just one example. If I looked back through old notes, I could probably remember a dozen little instances in which I fudged a rule or deviated from a game mechanic in order to push the story onward. There are gamers whose brains would boil at such an idea, but like I've said, for me story is the important element. Even as a game master, I wanted to tell a good story, not just plunk down some dice and see what randomly happens.


David J. West said...

This will make me comment about two things.

I will say the most important thing about fiction is the story-it has to engage the reader and keep them turning pages or what have you accomplished.

That said I do lean poet because I agonize over the right word, the symbolism and specifically the resonance that such a word employs.

I think about that all the time and there is no way I can ever divorce myself from it. Every major characters name has meaning to me and they are never given lightly-even if I know/doubt anyone but me will ever "get" it.

There is a vast fantasy in my mind, over my work being analyzed someday long after I'm dead for just such items.

And second topic about D&D, the greatest campaign I ever played and after months of gaming, I had to move several states away.

I asked for a sendoff. I had a samurai-what is honorable to a samurai?
The DM gave us quite the encounter, stacking the deck with intent to slay me.

My rolls were on fire, the most heroic glorious D&D battle I have ever had and I won, I slew everything that came against us.
In the process, everyone but the Bard died.
It was a big game, I think 8 of us regularly played.
But I have never had so much fun at D&D as the summer of 2002.

Ty Johnston said...

David, thanks for the comment.

In my few more literary works, I too tend to do some agonizing over word choice and the like, but not so much in my genre work. It really depends upon what I'm trying to accomplish with any given piece.

As for any future analyzing of my writing, for the most part I'm not that complicated in my straight-up genre work. A sword is a sword, a castle a castle, etc. There's not meant to be any hidden subtexts, at least not consciously on my part.

My literary works are a different story, though my subtexts tend to be hidden even when the reader thinks otherwise; what I mean by this is, I'll sometimes make something seem obvious or seemingly so, but I'm actually reaching for something deeper. For a simplistic example (SPOILER ALERT), my magical realism novel 100 Years of Blood is seemingly about vampires, even though I never call the characters vampires nor within the actual text do I allude to any supernatural events, though some strange things happen. I've had a number of readers tell me the vampires were the secret of the novel, of figuring out that the characters are vampires. But are the characters vampires? Could they be something else? Could they even be normal humans simply with some odd events happening around them? I have my opinions, but I'll never tell. One point of the novel is for readers to think for themselves instead of having everything handed to them (even though many readers seem to prefer such). Again, a simplistic example, but I think it shows my point of how literary depths can go deeper than we sometimes suspect.