Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Storytelling: DIY or buy the kit?

My brother-in-law is a high school band director, with a special love for marching band. While I don't get home very often, and have only seen his band march across the football field once, I regularly hear friends and family gush about his talent and how he's transformed his school's program.  They brag bro-in-law doesn't just buy the kits for his marching band, but rather designs their routines from scratch.

Impressive, huh? Actually, I have no idea. Having spent most of my life as an orchestra nerd, I know next-to-nothing about bands, and even less about marching.

But I know my bro-in-law is super smart, and I can imagine some of the difficulties involved in choreographing an entire band with a homemade script. It makes me think of cooks who dare to ater recipes, or even create their own. Or writers. Ah, you see where I'm going now?

Plenty of writers use "kits", in one form or another. They use existing folklore, monsters, and cultures. They use a formulaic plot (have you ever noticed that every single PD James mystery has three deaths?), or common storytelling tropes, or stereotypical characters.

Of course, no piece of art is entirely unique. Everyone is using a kit of some sort, as we build on stories that were told before, or tropes that play out in our world, or even our world itself as a backdrop.

But in commercial fiction, kits are much more common. Publishers like known tropes because they're more predictable and marketable. Readers like kits for many of the same reasons; they're familiar, and therefore comforting. And for writers, it's certainly easier to invent a zombie using George Romero's template, or a paranormal romance using Stephenie Meyer's plot points. But of course, you know Romero and Meyer's names because they didn't follow a kit themselves, but rather did something unique in their storytelling.

So as I'm agonizing over the rules of Project Demo's world once again, trying to make everything consistent and logical, I think it would certainly be easier to buy the kit. But my artistic (and stubborn) self continues to insist on doing it the hard way. Actually it occurs to me, perhaps that tension between kit and individuality marks the best writing.

Regardless, do you ever wish you could just buy the kit?

11 comments:

  1. LOL. I think we all feel like this sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. World building is challenging, but I prefer not to follow the kit and I prefer books that don't as well. Following the kit tends to lead to a predictable plot line. Don't get me wrong, there's been time I wish someone would just hand me a kit and say the answer you seek lies inside. Great post :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, Cherie. That's what I keep coming back to, too--I much prefer more unique books, though every so often I just need a comfort read.

      Wonder if I could start some sort of side business, handing kits to distressed writers? ;)

      Delete
  3. A kit?
    It's to literature what 'paint-by-numbers' is to art. Something will come out of it, but it won't be great. I'd rather take chances.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hah! I can almost hear your dismissive tone, spitting out the word "kit"!

      Delete
  4. Forget the kit, at times I think I'd buy the entire franchise. It's just so much easier that way. But each time I've tried it (ahem, yes, I've tried) I stumble over myself. It feels a bit dishonest.

    Btw, love that your brother-in-law creates his programs from scratch. My band director did the same because we were one of the last *true* marching bands in our area. (We marched from one end zone to the other during a time when 95% of the bands merely walked out to center field and stayed there the entire time to perform.) Glad to know movement is returning.

    I'm rarely a snob about anything, but I confess to turning up my nose when someone describes 100 frozen statues as a *marching* band. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I can see that, Bridgette... anytime I try to make things simple for myself in my writing, I end up complicating it, because the storytelling doesn't feel enough like me.

      Hah! LOVE that you get what I mean about marching band kits, probably even more so than me!

      Delete
  5. There are standard plots out there that work because they work. They are what the reader expects and hopes for and what gives them a satisfying ending. My last book had one ending and it was very uncliche but after my husband read it he said it was a disappointment to the reader and that it would be an unsatisfying ending. So I rewrote it! It's got that typical happily ever after but with consequences ending but it works.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a really good point, Christina (and you're magically anticipating Thursday's post!). Jung wrote about how deeply embedded in humanity some tropes are, and I'm inclined to agree. An ending should suit a book and its characters, but where possible, I want a satisfying ending, too.

      Delete
  6. From Elisabeth (who for some reason can't post comments on my blog at the moment. Grrr, computers...):

    "Don't get me wrong, there's been time I wish someone would just hand me a kit and say the answer you seek lies inside."

    What Cherie said :-)

    I think that, as Mirka alluded, if you follow a pattern that isn't truly your own, the end product isn't going to have the spark that is satisfying to both the writer and the reader. That said, there's nothing wrong with studying classic "kits" to understand the nature of their appeal. That understanding can be used to inform our own, unique/diy stories.

    Great topic!

    Elisabeth

    ReplyDelete