Sunday, 1 June 2008

Learning by Degrees?

Just had a very awkward converstaion/argument in the pub.

The beauty of being an unpublished writer is that until you actually are published everyone feels qualified to tell you how to do it. And even when you are published I doubt that'll change much.

It's like people who assume they're good at music because they have loads of CDs or can boom out advice at the football players on television even though they themselves are fat, drunk people who have never really left their armchair in twelve years.

As you can see, the argument has riled me a little. But that doesn't mean I didn't listen to their points of view. They're comments have given me pause for thought and made me rethink my position on writing. Sometimes when this happens I rethink my standpoint, in this case I just came back to the same conclusion I had before but thought of all the things I should have said at the time (always the way).

The girls' stance (baring in mind that they have never read anything I've written) was that to be a good writer you need to learn philosophy and psychology, possibly even to a degree level. One so you can broach interesting issues, the other so you can understand what makes people tick and write how they would react.

When asked to name famous author's that have done this names were few and far between. No, that's being too diplomatic, one name came up: Jostein Gaarder who wrote Sophie's World subtitled A Novel about the History of Philosophy. I'm not sure if they knew that that was the subtitle or just hadn't considered it.

The stance I take is this: learning about these things don't make you good at writing novels, they just make you good at writing about psychology or philosophy. Yes, I imagine that learning psychology would make you better at understanding psychology. But how much do you really need to know to write a good story, make deep, interesting characters? If a character is punched around the face do I need to crack open a basic text book on psychology to find out how they would react? Or would they hit back, run away, cry or do any of a million things depending on the context, who hit them, who that person is etc?

Of course psychology and philosophy will make you better, perhaps, at writing some things, but I suspect they'll only really make you better at psychology and philosophy. Should I also study biology to have a better idea of how a frog hops or a sheep bleats? Or shall I just say what I just said knowing full well that the reader will know what I mean when I say 'the frog hopped'.

There's no doubt that research needs to be done on subjects to create a good novel, to make them live and breath but research is secondary to writing. Research is a tool, not an end in itself. When I'm writing about someone who is psychologically disturbed I'll do the research (hell, I have done. RWBW had someone suffering Munchausen Syndrome and I did my research). When I'm writing from the point of view of a philosopher I'll look into philosophy. At some point I'll have to look at farming techniques for my novel.

The point I think I have to make in the end is that you write the books you want to read. Gaarder (I'm reading here) contributed to textbooks on philosophy before he went near fiction. In the end he wrote a book he wanted to read and he did it well. Good for him.

Now, I'm going to write a book I want to read. It won't be about psychology or philosophy, it'll be about what I'm interested in: people and hopefully all that they entail, lovely, wondrous creatures that they are.

Thanks for reading.