Monday, April 25, 2011

Holistic Writing

Recently, I've been reading blog posts about holistic writing.  The views expressed generally state that all parts of a story need to work together, that the story is an organic whole. and that characters need to fit the plot and the plot needs to fit the characters.

Well, Duh?

Where have these people been?  All writing must be holistic or it fails.  It does not matter if it is an essay, a work of fiction, instructions for assembling the next big thing, or a letter to Mom, the writing must be conceived in its entirety and executed as a whole.  This means different things for different forms of writing.  In fiction, it means the characters and the plot are a unified whole.  The whole character vs plot discussion (about which is more important) has always struck me as pointless because all writing needs to be holistic.  You need both characters and plot and they have to work together or the story fails.

Example:  If Romeo is from a different family, not the mortal enemy of her family, does it matter whether he falls in love with Juliette?  No, of course not.  In fact, the story is not nearly as interesting because it transforms the tale into a simple love story, not a tragedy of star-crossed lovers.  But because the characters and the plot are tied together, the entire story is transformed from a simple love story to a major tragedy.

What this means is you need to select characters that fit the story and have a story that fits the characters.

Example: In my first novel, I spend time introducing the main characters.  Daniel, an orphan, is looking for members of his family.  He was rescued by elves and raised by them.  He knows his last name but little else.  Daniel is also a master of elven martial arts and revered by most elves.  When Iriel, an elf in town, meets Daniel, she offers to help him because to her he is almost a religious figure.  James, Iriel's lover, is also sucked into this plot, not because James wants to help but because Iriel wants him to and asked him to help.

I spent time setting this up so that when the magic gem in the novel communicates with Daniel and asks for his help, it starts a process that affects all three characters.  Here, plot and characters are partners each pulling their own weight to move the story along.

Now some may say, "But that's contrived."

Yes, of course it is.  All art (and writing) is contrived.  I've purposely selected details to tell the story I want to tell.  If I don't do that, you get a lot of irrelevant details and you don't have art, you have... reality TV or something equally noxious.

So if you are oohing and aahing about holistic writing, I think it is time to go back to basics and remember what makes fiction work, what the elements of fiction are, and get over any sense of novelty.  Holistic principles aren't new; they are as old as writing itself.

No comments: