Thursday, September 20, 2012

A word person or a story person?


Oia, on the island of Santorini, in Greece, is built on the side of a mountain.  While on vacation last spring, I decided to hike uphill into town after a large lunch. I bumped into some tourists coming the other way.

"How bad is the climb?" one asked.

Breathlessly I replied, "It's a bit more arduous than I expected."

The tourists laughed. "Arduous?! It must be really bad!"

I laughed with them. I can't help the vocabulary. I've always been a word person. 

A while back, my critique group was comparing writing methods, and I showed them my notebook, and explained how I write everything long-hand first

"But look at it!" one of them exclaimed. "All those words! You've hardly crossed anything out."

Now that's not entirely true. I do cross things out, add scribbles in the margins, and draw arrows when I want to move whole paragraphs of text. But the words are the easy part. I can always throw out some dialogue, describe a character, create some atmosphere... It's figuring out the story that takes me months, sometimes years of work. 

It occurs to me that most of my writing friends are the same way. We scavenge our minds for the perfect word, and in our reading highlight clever turns of phrase or beautiful descriptive passages. I find real joy in structuring text so it flows logically and rhythmically, and my paragraphs end with a powerful punch. And I'm sure that capacity for language makes me a better writer. But I wish story came more easily. I wish I knew people who understand story like I understand language.

Would you call yourself a word person or a story person? Is it a true dichotomy, never the twain shall meet? Or can some people be a bit of both?

And if you are a story person... will you be my friend?

*The picture is mine. And yes, Santorini really is that beautiful. If you're interested, there are tons more pictures here and here.

12 comments:

  1. Definitely a word person. And like you, I find real joy in playing with language to find the right word with the exact meaning I want, and to get the rhythm right because there's music in language. Often, I find, my work reads better when read aloud than just silently scanning it on the page. Hmm.

    Thanks, so much, Anne, for the photo of Santorini...

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    1. On the flip side, prose that has no rhythm and doesn't sing? I definitely notice. There are some pluses to being word people.

      Always happy to share vacation pics!

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  2. My roommates in college called me the walking dictionary [sigh]. If I know the perfect word, I use it and it doesn't sound strange at all to my ears.

    Words definitely come more easily to me than plot, but I've gotten so much faster and better at plotting in the past few years. It's nice to feel a bit more balanced as a writer, but I still spend much more time puzzling out plots than words.

    There was an interesting Twitter exchange on this topic last month between writers Neil Gaiman and Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once Upon A Time, Husbands). Neil said plot comes easily to him and he wished it didn't take so long to sort out the words. Jane said she'd play with words all day if someone else would come up with the plot. End result - they were talking about doing lunch! Now that would be a cool collaboration!

    Elisabeth

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    1. That's exactly it, Elisabeth. I just use the best word I know--it really took me a moment to figure out what those tourists found so funny!

      I heard Holly Black say plot was her weakness, too. Well, you'd NEVER know. So maybe there's hope for us if we keep working at it!

      See? Us word people need story friends! Interesting that Gaiman identifies himself as a story person, though... I'm not sure I would've guessed that.

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  3. A good book is both. Words are the primary particles.

    And, Anne, I raise a toast to ARDUOUS. You climbed that one beautifully.

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    1. This is so true, Mirka. And whether we're word people or story people, that's the goal, is to figure out how to do both successfully.

      hehehe. Glad you liked arduous! ;)

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  4. I think all writers love to play with words.

    Love your photos of Santorini! Thanks for sharing them.

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    1. Yeah, you're right. Kind of comes with the trade, doesn't it? ;)

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Good question. I definitely used to be a word person. I'd labor over each word and think my story was perfect when it was done. (Ha!) Now I'm much more of a story person; I get the story right, and THEN I focus on the words.

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    1. I love this answer, Anna. I've really been trying to head this direction myself. Good to know it is possible!

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  6. I love words, picking the right ones, and learning new ones by reading the dictionary but I believe I'm more of a story person. Over the years I've become better at plotting and look forward to outlining. I also pay more attention to pacing, hooks, and everything else. Like Anna, I need to get that right before focusing on words.

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    1. Ohhh, you wise story people give me hope!

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