Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Peel the Layers

My co-host, Scott G.F. Bailey over on the Literary Lab is talking about character change today. He makes the point that characters don't really change more than they discover things about themselves. I agree with him. He says:
My current theory is that characters don't actually change. The way they are at the end of the story--the endpoint of the character arc to which we're moving--is actually no more and no less than how the character really is, already. His true self, if you will, is already there, but it is hidden or repressed somehow. The dramatic action, the primary conflict of the story, is created because the protagonist is unable to express that true self. Or, it can only be resolved once the protagonist expresses that true self. (Scott G.F. Bailey)
If you'd like to talk about character change, step over to the Lab and leave a comment. For here I'd like to discuss how we as writers are in our journey. Do we change as writers? Or do we simple discover things about ourselves? Does our writing change?

I'm preparing to rewrite a novel of mine in the next few months, and as I look at previous drafts that I've written over the past 15 years I'm very surprised to see that the writing hasn't change all that much. It's still my writing. It's just that certain things were "hidden or repressed somehow," just as Scott says above. I didn't know how to command my language as well, how to structure as well, how to control my descriptions, how to make certain character mannerisms work for the story, etc. I didn't even know what was missing! But, the basic building blocks were there. It makes me wonder how and what I'll discover in the next 15 years. It's an exciting journey, and I prefer to think that whatever I publish in my life now will not bring me shame in the future. It will still be my writing, my words, my talent. I will have just discovered new things to show in my writing later - like a beautiful package where I keep peeling back the layers of tissue paper. It won't be the gift inside but the experience of opening the package that will make all the difference. Practice and persistence are what get us to peel the layers. So keep at it.


  1. Do we change as writers? - Yes.

    Or do we simple discover things about ourselves? - Yes.

    Does our writing change? - Yes.

    I know, it's not so simple and straightforward, so confined to a single word - yes - response.

    My writing has changed throughout the years. I write tighter, more concise. My style of writing - depending on the project - changes as well. The voice - again, depending on the project changes.

    Perhaps those changes are all about discovery but, in the end, there is still change. Or, maybe, we develop into better writers the longer we write. Hmmmm . . .

    And, our writing does change.


  2. I don't think there has been a wholesale change in my writing for a long time. Probably my conceits and my characters have always been in a similar vein. I would say that my style, voice, and technique have shifted dramatically since I started seriously writing when I was about 13. Probably junior year of college is when I embarked on the path that has continued leading me in my present direction. Prior to that, my writing is very different in a lot of ways.

    But, that said, I think it's all change. It's just a matter of degrees. Peeling an orange doesn't turn it into an apple, but it does change it.

  3. I think the real question here is how do you define CHANGE? To me it means that your writing is something COMPLETELY different. If that's the case I'd say yes, it has changed. If not, if you're still writing the same genre, same type of style, but it has just DEVELOPED, then NO, it hasn't change. In my opinion.

  4. The definition of change: to alter, to make different, to cause to pass from one state to another. - Merriam Webster.

    So, if my writing style - for a particular project - is more irreverant than another project. I have 'changed' my writing. If I alter the format of the writing - the chapter length, etc. - then I have 'changed' my writing.

    It is all about the defintion. It is all . . . subjective. For some, to develop is, well, to change.

    Look at Draft 1 versus Draft 10. What is different? What have you changed? Is Draft 10 the same as Draft 1? Yes, the building blocks might be the same, but, something is different. You've altered something along the way to make it better. : )


  5. I'm not talking about projects changing, Scott. I'm talking about our writing in general. I certainly hate to think of myself looking back on CINDERS and thinking that I have changed so much as a writer that it is no longer a valid representation of my writing. Much of my college writing isn't as GOOD as what I write today, but it is an excellent example of my writing in general. A reader can get a feel for what I like to write about and what my tastes in sentence structure and descriptions and characters are. None of that has truly changed over the years - only my discovery of how to make it better. Even the stuff I wrote when I was 10 or 12 is a good representation of me as a writer.

    Maybe I'm crazy for thinking this, but I don't think of myself as changing as a person from the moment I was born to who I am now. I'm still Michelle. My writing is still mine. I'm just making it better, more polished, with each project. Since my writing comes directly from ME, I don't see IT changing unless I change completely as a person - and that I have not done. I just keep improving as a person, I hope.

    Anyway, I'm just rambling. I think we're looking at this through completely different lenses.

  6. Developing is a good word for it. I know my writing is sure developing. I still have a long way to go, but I know now what makes it better and I'm working on it.

  7. I think we grow - which while not a complete personality change in most cases - is still a change. For example, as a child you may have confidence issues, which say over the years you managed to resolve. So you grew as a person. Overcame your fears, or gained experience in life to feel the confidence. With writing it's the same. With practice and life, we grow. So I would say we do change. It doesn't make you a different person, but it does make you different than who you were 15 years ago. If you are not at all different than that 15 years of life experience hasn't done anything.

  8. Dolly, this is just me slapping too much complexity on the word CHANGE. The way you put it, yes, experience changes us. Of course it does. I just use the word develop today instead of change because I'm complicated that way.

    If we use the word GROW, I'd like to think of it in the way that a pine tree grows from a pinecone...it always had the potential to be a tree. It didn't change into a tree. It developed into a tree.

  9. Change is a weird word that way, because it has both a punctiliar and an indefinite sense. It does sound awkward to say that a pine cone changed into a tree, because that seems to suggest a snap-of-the-fingers transformation.

    On the other hand, it seems silly to suggest that a pine cone undergoes no changes during its development into a tree.

  10. How about this - the way I write has changed. I write from a different place in my life today - more free, more in control - than I did 10 years ago. There's more a sense of 'me' - if that makes sense - in my writing, in what I write, today than 10 years ago.

    So, my writing (or perhaps only the way) I write has changed. I think there's more depth to my writing, more insight, that makes the writing different than what I did in the past.

    And yes, that difference is perhaps my writing developing (not changing) into something with more depth. : )

  11. I can say almost definitely, that maybe my writing has changed.

    OK, if I'm being honest, it's changed a lot. Unlike some people I haven't been a writer since I learned how to talk. I started in my early 30's (no not the 1930's, though it does feel like that sometimes).

    I started out writing technical engineering books. They are still being sold today, and are still more effective than sleeping pills in putting non-technical types out in mere minutes.

    Unfortunately, I can't make a living writing those types of books. If I could have, I probably would have written more, but if you think the market for poetry is bad, you should see how small the audience is for a narrowly focused engineering book.

    So a while ago, I thought how cool it would be to take a shot at writing fiction. I dreamed of being able to write anywhere I wanted, lots of free time to do whatever I wanted, yeah, basically dreaming.

    I started on some pretty bad fiction. I had no clue how to structure a story, and the thing that I prided myself on the most was that my stories were "technically accurate". As if readers really cared about that.

    I realize that different genres allow you to push the line between believable and unbelievable around, but I was dead set on writing totally accurate fiction.

    I don't do that anymore.

    Of course I still try to stay accurate, but only as much as is necessary. I am much more interested in telling a good story, rather than worrying whether the top speed of a Ferrari F430 is 200, or 205mph. (I honestly don't know what it is, though I'm sure I could Google it in a second)

    My writing focus now, is all about characters, plot, and setting. I try to make sure there is a rich mix of all of these elements so that I keep the reader turning pages.


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