09 September 2012

Researching For Romance Writing: Advancing The Plot Or Skimping On Story?

Welcome back to Researching For Romance, a weekly series revealing my fabulous finds for use in writing. Please feel free to share any great sites that offer greater information on whatever topic is featured. :} 


Gratuitous Sundries...Or Great Crafting...

I happened upon an interview with George R.R. Martin, at The Atlantic, and I was struck by a comment he made to Rachel Brown. 

'How do you make decisions about the depictions of sexual violence that you include in your writing?'

'Well, I'm not writing about contemporary sex—it's medieval.
There's a more general question here that doesn't just affect sex or rape, and that's this whole issue of what is gratuitous? What should be depicted? I have gotten letters over the years from readers who don't like the sex, they say it's "gratuitous." I think that word gets thrown around and what it seems to mean is "I didn't like it." This person didn't want to read it, so it's gratuitous to that person. And if I'm guilty of having gratuitous sex, then I'm also guilty of having gratuitous violence, and gratuitous feasting, and gratuitous description of clothes, and gratuitous heraldry, because very little of this is necessary to advance the plot. But my philosophy is that plot advancement is not what the experience of reading fiction is about. If all we care about is advancing the plot, why read novels? We can just read Cliffs Notes'. (I've highlighted these portions)  
'A novel for me is an immersive experience where I feel as if I have lived it and that I've tasted the food and experienced the sex and experienced the terror of battle. So I want all of the detail, all of the sensory things—whether it's a good experience, or a bad experience, I want to put the reader through it. To that mind, detail is necessary, showing not telling is necessary, and nothing is gratuitous'.

This comment stirred my thoughts a great deal!  Why do I read?  Is it only to get to the point - or do I read for the journey? 

Readers may prefer one or the other - there's no wrong way to enjoy a story!  But writers' styles vary when telling a story.  I love the details!  Martin's comments hit the nail on the head for me - both as a reader and as a writer.  I enjoy the journey, and I want to experience the setting, feel the characters' emotions, laugh with them - at them - hope, cry, and cheer them along the way.  As a writer, I strive with every new novel to capture more fully the sights, smells, emotions, and heart of the story and its characters.  To offer not only a story - but an experience. 

What is your reaction to George R.R. Martin's answer?  Why do you read?

 ~ Nadja


18 comments:

  1. I love his answer, and like him, I am all about the sensory details. At the moment, my WIP is in the revision stage, and I'm looking over notes from betas. One of my beta readers was saying I had too much detail in my WIP, while another said they loved all the detail and description. Another didn't comment on it at all. Like you say, I think it's all about the personal preference of individual readers. For me, and the way I learned to write (fiction) in college, I was told to immerse my reader in the world; to make them "see" it in their mind and have them "feel" what my characters are feeling. I read for the same reason. I gravitate towards writers who describe to me (in whatever narration they are using)the world, the characters (internally and externally), and through that, the plot. I don't want broad strokes; I am just not wired that way. I want my senses activated as I read (and write) so to speak; and good, descriptive writing (like Martin's) do that for me. Great post!!!

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I really connected with Martin's observations, and wanted to share.

      I do like to be 'immersed' in the world between the pages I read. That can happen for me in different ways. Through setting, emotion, and/or situation. Every book is a little different...and this heightens my enjoyment a great deal. It's always something new with each writer!

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  2. Sometimes I think authors are afraid to add details because it doesn't move the plot forward but if there are not enough details the story can seem dry and stilted. I myself like to feel like I've been a part of the world the characters are in when I'm reading and details about the surroundings and things that are going on outside of just the main characters does that. However, there can be such a thing as too much detail but I think that's only a problem when the main story itself is not well written. Then it seems like the author just puts details in to have a longer book. The main story should be well crafted then the extrasensory details only add to it.

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    1. I agree, Anya! It depends on the story...whether the setting is well described - or over described...
      There are many factors that must come together for it to 'work'.

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  3. See, it's not so bad that I like to describe the food the characters are eating. LOL

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    1. LOL...I have a thing for food as well. I love it too much. Ha.

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  4. He makes a good point and I agree to an extent, though I have to say extensive descriptions are not really my thing, which is one of the reasons I find the prospect of reading anything by George R. R. Martin intimidating despite people continually telling me to (high fantasy, political intrigue and split narratives are also not my thing, which doesn't help).

    I don't quite know why he specifies that he's not writing contemporary sex, it's medieval. If a character's raped by her husband because it's set in a time when men still thought they had a right to do that, I'm still going to feel uncomfortable either way. I'm not sure what he's getting at there.

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    1. He's received a lot of criticism about one of the characters depicted in the book which I think he's trying to address here. People object most strongly to the age of the character and the forced marriage and I think his point is that it's relevant to the setting of the book. But you are still right on the money when you say that something like that will make you uncomfortable whether it's relevant or not. :)

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    2. @ spaciireth ~ I have struggled to enjoy Tolkien for this very reason. At times, I get too sidetracked with his description - and this can dampen my enthusiasm for the story.

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    3. I do become uncomfortable with some situations in novels...rape is one. But within a story, I try to set aside my personal feelings to see where the story is going with such a difficult thing. I am not opposed, per se, but yes...it does affect me as a reader.

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  5. I am not fond of long descriptive scenes. I'm in it for what comes next. Unless that palm tree has coconuts with rum inside, it's not that important.

    Not that there shouldn't be some sensory input, but it can be overdone. I recently put a book down when the author took two pages to describe a beaded purse. Come on. It's a purse.

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    1. Ha! Rum inside...*wipes a tear while laughing*
      My mood affects what I'm looking for when I open a book, and I often read multiple novels concurrently because of this. At times I like a meaty story - and at others, I just want to be entertained.

      Two pages about a beaded purse? Yes...that would probably not work so well for me as a reader. While I enjoy description ( I like to 'see' the setting) I don't like to be too long in being 'away' from the story line. It disrupts the flow for me. There is such a fine balance! Hitting that sweet-spot is always our goal as writers.

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  6. I'm not sure there is an easy way to answer this question, but I'll take a stab at it anyway.

    I read for the experience of reading. The stories, of course, drive the experience, as I am forced to follow the roads the author has laid out for me.

    Beyond the forced route, however, are the nuances that make the story a real experience. The author's style, description, method of dialogue, and pacing all help to dictate the experience, to fill in the scenery on either side of the road of the story.

    Then there is the final step of melding the prose with my soul. I'm not sure if that makes sense to you, but it meshes perfectly with my way or reading. Every reader brings his or her own life and experiences to each novel read. This unique history colors the prose and story to create a final product that will not be the same for any two readers.

    This is what makes movies different from books. Movies spoon-feed the audience exactly what they want you to see, hear, and experience. In a book, the author puts everything out there for the reader, but it is up to the reader to make what they want of what they read.

    So... long answer short, I don't specifically read for the journey, or to get there. I read for the synergy that is created between the author's words and my interpretations.

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    1. Love this, Mike! Very well articulated. Thank you for weighing in!

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  7. Anyone who has read Martin's books will know how true his words are. One of his storylines in particular, centered around Dany, has been very widely criticized. As a reader familiar with his work, however, I've gotten used to experiencing his "good with the bad" mentality. Personally, I love it, and I wish I were always as brave as he is. I find myself chickening out, so often, when it comes to putting in some of the rougher elements of a story. There was one chapter in particular, in Aeris, that I almost didn't write because of how hard a subject it was for me to think about. But the story was better for it(at least to ME) so I'm glad I did it.

    Do you have a hard time putting the bitter in with the sweet?

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    1. For sure, Kate! Adding the bitter is so difficult. Too much? Enough? Gosh.

      I read many times over these types of things before I make a decision.

      I, too, like the 'good-with-the-bad'. It makes the story come alive for me - for real life is this way. Like I said above, I read various types of books depending on what I am looking for in a story. Some readers read only one genre; it's their favorite and that is what they always want. I read across genres - and I think this influences my writing a great deal.

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  8. Also, I think the amount of detail you add has a lot to do with your audience, too. YA readers tend to like more zippy reads. While High Fantasy (which is technically what Martin writes) requires endless descriptions. It's the nature of the beast.

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    1. Absolutely, Kate. Loved your observations.

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