Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Interesting Information Along The Journey

I read widely in the field of mystery, suspense, and thrillers. That's probably why I write what I do. Among my favorite writers are those creating in the noir genre--Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, and the recent work of James Scott Bell. I recently acquired a copy of Westlake's last novel featuring his anti-hero, Parker. I love it, although if you're thinking of reading it, I have to warn you that it reeks of violence and very few of the characters get out alive.

But I digress. The book, Butcher's Moon, contains a new foreword by Lawrence Block, who was both friend and colleague to Westlake. Block describes Westlake telling him he was writing what he called "narrative push." He sort of got the ball rolling to see where it would take him. Nowadays we call that SOP (seat of the pants) plotting. As further explanation, Block quotes Theodore Sturgeon, who said that if the writer doesn't know what's going to happen next, the reader certainly can't. Since I've written four novels using this technique, I applauded Sturgeon--whoever he was--and decided to look further.

Although Wikipedia isn't always accurate, it's generally fun. And Wikipedia told me that Theodore Sturgeon was a prolific science-fiction writer, including Star Trek episodes, as well as ghost-writing one of the best Ellery Queen mysteries. From there, it took me to Sturgeon's Law, which essentially says that "90% of science fiction is crud--but, then again, 90% of everything is crud."

Is there a moral to this story? I think so. I learned that my writing method isn't "SOP," it's "narrative push." I discovered that Theodore Sturgeon came up with the Vulcan hand sign popularized on Star Trek. And I realized that it's possible to get way off track when doing online research. But it's sure fun.

Have you had any similar experiences of wandering away when doing research? Want to share?


Adam Blumer said...

Great article! I really like your blog. My first two novels were carefully planned, but the one I'm working on now is a SOP. I figured, as you said, that if I don't know where my story is going next, my readers won't either. It's a scary process because I tend to be a very organized planner, but I think it will be a more interesting novel in the end (that is, if I can keep my sanity). Thanks!

Adam Blumer
Freelance Editor and Novelist
Novels: Fatal Illusions (Kregel), The Tenth Plague (Kirkdale: coming soon!)
(920) 412-7015

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Adam. "Push fiction" is so much nicer than "seat of the pants," isn't it?