Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ambiguity in Drafting

Went to the Chicago-SF September writing workshop. On the downside, only someone completely new and me showed up for the workshop. The newbie and I got along pretty well, though, and provided some good insight for each other's stories.

For my novel, it's probably a good thing that only the newbie and I showed up. I've submitted four excerpts from my novel so far to the group, one per month for the last four months, I believe. I submitted them all to the newbie about two or three weeks ago.

Getting a reaction from someone who has sat down to read it in a more compact time then people who've been reading 10 page excerpts every month ago certainly provides for a different perspective. Probably the biggest help is that they haven't had a month to fill up their minds with other things that distract them from the details or lack of detail from excerpt to excerpt.

The newbie provided some great enlightenment into their interpretation of the facts as presented. I don't mean an interpretation as a literary analysis of the facts, what they represent or symbolize or what motifs or themes they create. Rather, the newbie has shown me which facts have been established and which ones remain unclear.

I've never taken part in a fiction/writing workshop that has had the critiquers simply summarize what they have read, as they see the facts established and maybe all that other analytical literary critique stuff, too. In the past, I thought it would come across as a waste of time. "Ok, so this is what you wrote. . .." Being shown that this summarizing process isn't a waste of time really comes as refreshing.

Now that I think about it, though, I think this summarizing practice taps into a general problem that exists with human communication. I remember a long time taking part in this discussion at a young adult group discussion at my local UUA church about communication or some such.

One of the people provided an insight about a good practice to follow when having a sensitive conversation is to relate back your interpretation of what another person just said. Don't repeat back to them verbatim what they said. That could actually be considered rude, especially if said in a certain tone of voice. Since we all have our own individual listening styles, assumptions and belief systems, however, how interpret the words another person speaks can often turn out very differently than the intent behind their words.

Words have a funny way of working like that, not working concisely and clearly with our intended meanings. Linguists have theorized about this topic since linguistics started and philosophers before them. The late ethnobotanist/philosopher/social critic, Terence McKenna, even hypothesized that speech communication requires a limited form of telepathy for communication to work. An interesting theory, but I don't know. . ..

Writing totally fits into the realm of communication, analogous to verbal communication, since they both depend on words. And as spoken communication between two or more people can collide with ambiguity and confusion, so can written communication. I won't get into the stress that we all feel every once when we want to present ourselves in a perfect fashion and impress other people, which can cause us to stumble over our words, thus creating a bad impression, fulfilling a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One big advantage of writing comes from the fact that we can review it and review it before showing it to other people instead of having our mouth run off faster than our brain can work. Like with thinking and working on our spoken communication until the end of time, though, ambiguity can still find its way into a text that you've been working on for hundreds and hundreds of hours.

That's when the people in a fiction writing workshop can help a lot with their summarizing your piece. And the writing workshop this past Wednesday helped a lot for the newbie and me to find the deficiencies of ambiguity in our pieces. Not the parts of intentional ambiguity put in there for purposes of irony or for dramatic suspense, but the mistaken bits of ambiguity that are put in there because the writer has an image of things in their head, which they think that they've sufficiently described and explained on paper. . .but they haven't. We found plenty in each other's pieces.

I wish I could back to fix mine. Doing so would, unfortunately, break the flow of writing the novel. I tried doing so with past versions in the novel in past fiction workshops, and I ended starting over and starting over and starting over. It's not anything to regret, since I have an exponentially better product.

Not necessarily good for quality or perfection, but more product generally means more recognition, accomplishment, money (dare I say it?) and advancement on the career path. There's a balance in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

As I told someone yesterday, though, it's like I'm in a major research stage doing this first stage writing, developing the product and creating raw material. Once the first draft gets done, then I can sculpt the statue and hone in on addressing the details and ambiguity. Frustrating as this process is, it certainly makes for an interesting path.

Hopefully in the future, though, I learn some good tricks to cut down on the research side of things, hopefully. Until then, I will have to forge ahead and learn what I can.

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