Writing Philosophy – Analyst versus Artist

This blog keeps growing, which means I’m reaching more and more people with my tips and ideas. In my opinion, it’s important to consider the source when evaluating the merit of a writing suggestion. I think, then, that I should take a step back and make sure I’ve expressed clearly exactly what I’m trying to achieve with writing.

I’m an engineer. Literally. I’m registered in the state of Louisiana as a mechanical engineer.

As you may guess from my profession, I approach life analytically, and that extends to writing. The development of the story fulfills my need to be creative, but, when it comes to translating those ideas into the written word, I apply a thoughtful, systematic methodology.

My way of doing it isn’t for everyone. Many authors come at it from an artistic side. Feel replaces analysis for them. It’s important to understand what works for you.

For example, I had a beta reader tell me that a particular point didn’t stand out as well as it should — an astute observation. An artist, presumably, would rely on feel to correct the problem. I went into analysis mode.

Problem: an important point isn’t standing out

First, I had to figure out why. After reading the passage, the answer was readily apparent. I had buried the relevant sentence at the end of a long sequence where a lot of fast-paced action took place. The reader didn’t have a chance to digest what happened before being thrown the important information.

Next, I had figure out how to fix it. Since the pace was too fast, the obvious solution is that I needed to slow the pace before the important point.

Solution: insert a short paragraph of description between the end of the action sequence and the important point.

More importantly than just fixing this one issue in one scene in one chapter in one book, I took the lesson to heart — Make sure your important points aren’t buried. Now, I don’t have to rely as much on beta readers to point out this kind of mistake. Most of the time, I either no longer commit the error in the first place or fix it before it ever gets to the beta reader stage.

As an analyst, I believe that writing can be broken down into a series of techniques that each achieve an effect. Some have criticized this philosophy, thinking that it reduces an art into something cookie cutter that could be replicated by a computer.

Not so.

What you’re trying to achieve with your combination of techniques is inherently a creative exercise. The ways you can combine techniques are infinite. I simply analyze how best to convey what’s in my head to my audience.


4 thoughts on “Writing Philosophy – Analyst versus Artist

  1. Pingback: The Two Biggest Battles I Face in Writing | brianwfoster.com

  2. I have approached this idea in a different arena: mathematics. In short, I believe that our brains are supercomputers able to process more information “under the surface” than we could ever be aware of. Except we can be aware of it if we learn mathematics. For instance in making a basketball jump shot: For the untrained mathematician, we have this “feel” of what to do with our feet and body, how high to go, when to release the shot, and our brains do all of the mathematical work for us, leaving us with this “natural” sense of how to shoot the basketball. On the other hand, if you want to go into the physics and dynamics of the jump shot, you can learn these things and even program them into a computer and possibly create a machine to do them for you. Somewhere in-between, you have the self-aware athlete/coach that understands the principles of what to do and can teach others how to do it, but may not know how to teach a computer how to do it.

    With writing, I believe that most people rely on the “artistic feel” in order to say that they don’t have a great technical understanding of what they’re doing, but they do it naturally. I think it is important for everyone to progress to the point that they are self-aware of their writing. We all should strive to realize the proper effects of our word choice, sentence structure/placement and everything else. Otherwise, you can rely on your intuition up until the point where your guts are wrong (which happens for everyone eventually).

    On the other hand, I do believe storytelling is an art and we can make stylistic choices where the “why” boils down to artistic control and what you are trying to achieve with emotions and feel. Still, you should be aware of the techniques and implement them to achieve the feel you want to in order to improve your art.

    …a rather long-winded way for me to say “I agree mostly” I guess :p

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