Tuesday, August 04, 2009
What is craft?
I happened to be re-reading Robert McKee Story over the past week or so. It is one of those craft books that bears re-reading and re-absorbing and I came across the statement craft is more than mechanics. It struck a chord.
Writing craft is not just about the tools you use to make a story good but how you apply those tools. Some authors can use a blunt instrument and wring every ounce out of the story. Others use very fine tools and slip up because their sense of proportion and balance is wrong. Still others will use what seems to be the wrong tool and produce an absolute masterpiece. Whether they can do this consistently or not is a matter of conjecture and debate.
Think for example of a hand knit sweater -- same pattern, needles, and yarn and yet it can does take on the shape and personality of knitter. Sometimes there is a dropped stitch or the tension is not right. Sometimes, it languishes in the bottom of drawer for ages, and sometimes the pattern is incomplete. Knowledge of craft never diminishes creativity. It enhances it.
In other words, you need to learn the how and why, and how you apply the tools. And sometimes pure nerve and determination can carry it off. But it works far better when you understand the principles behind it.
Because writing is a medium that can never fully be mastered, there are opportunities to grow and expand your skill.
The other question which can be debated is can craft be taught. There is not an easy answer. You can show the skills, You can explain but whether or not the other person is listening or can apply the knowledge is open to debate. It takes a long time and patience to hone skills. The whole 10,000 hours bit. And with authors sometimes there can be a grass is greener or a tendency to want to run before they can walk. Why isn't everything happening to me now? Actually the reason why first book mega sellers hit the news is that they are NEWS. They are rare and generally unanticipated.
Anyway, I generally discover a craft book around this time. This year, Trish Wylie inspired me to get The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and how to avoid them by Jack M Bickham. I will admit to having read his stuff many years ago. I preferred Swain. However, the first chapter has a hit chord -- the number one mistake fiction writers make is to make excuses why they can't write. I have been there and done it. I will probably do it again. Right now though it is about showing up and writing. If you want to understand more see Trish's blog.