I rediscovered an article from the Horn Book magazine. (It wasn’t totally lost, since I still have all my old copies of the magazine, but I haven’t had time to go digging through them again to find it.) It’s by Jennifer Armstrong, who wrote Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World and a bunch of other books, including the Mairhe/Mary Mehan novels.
Now, think about the assertion she made: that the creation of novels is the work of the conscious mind. That it’s carefully planned out. That you decide what you’re writing about, what’s at the heart of your novel, and you consciously build images and ideas that play off that central idea, and then you create the novel.
That every work of art is built through conscious deliberation by the novelist and the choices she makes.
There’s a little in her ideas that I resist – I don’t think all the choices are conscious. However, when you start consciously building that ladder of ideas and play with it long enough, the unconscious mind is going to kick in and start helping out.
But I really like this idea of being able to plan the thematic arc of the novel, and this idea of how to do it. I want my writing to be more than just stories; I want them to be beautiful, to harmonize with all that comes before and after. I just could never get a good idea of how to set up that whole thematic arc from other writing books, which frustrated me. This article helps me do that. I just wish she’d said more about it.
After this article came out, though, there were a bunch of letters complaining, “Oh, her way is too cerebral, how can there be any room for inspiration to work here?” And I was going, it’s just one way to plan, for heaven’s sake, she’s not saying you have to do it, but it is a good idea.
But then read Nancy Werlin's response in a different issue of the magazine.
What do you think?
On the CD player right now: "Bad Love" by Eric Clapton.