Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pen vs. Sword

When I was first introduced to the smug, didactic phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword, " in youthful literal confusion, I didn't understand it.
Eventually I did. Idealistically, I agreed with it.
Then I lived a little longer.
While there have been a lot of swords dulled effectively by hacking at pens; there are an equal number of gulag martyrs to that phrase, until another sword severed their chains.
Such aphorisms and analogies are flawed. They may direct you past the Way Cross to the bend in the highway, but you must travel the rest of the way alone; and they tend to limit your choice of highways.
They tend to encourage us to embrace the logic of a zero sum game, of either/or, black or white, to view methods and ideas as a competition rather than a co-ordination of them.
Methods cannot be neatly categorized between how Currie and the Canadians took Vimy and how Braddock lost the Battle of the Wilderness.
Things operate more how Duke William won at Senlac in 1066. Yes, he had a battle plan, but was quick to seize opportunity and take advantage of the unexpected.
All this perambulation led me by some invidious synapse to the discussion of Writing Methods and the question "Are you plotter or panster?"
That phrase has a built-in prejudice, you know.
"Panster" makes me think of a very large woman bicycling vigorously in white stretch pants, her buttocks jostling each other like two convivial balloons.
Anyone shifting uneasily in their office chair?
Relax, a lot of flying was done by the seat of the pants.
Some writers hold grimly to one method. Others, blythe or embarrassed, confess to the other.
I vote that a combination of the two is most likely to achieve a successful invasion of publisher country.
Here's another aphorism, not nearly as elegant or erudite.
"There's more than one way to kill a cat, than choking it to death with butter."

15 comments:

AE Rought said...

Panster with polt-itudinal tendancies. :)

Sela Carsen said...

An unwilling pantser. I try in vain to plot, sure that it would speed up my lamentably scattered process. It never does, but I usually garner some ideas from it.

Robyn said...

I do an outline, then I pants through it.

That sounded wrong. And I hated your visual- video of myself from behind, walking away, is what convinced me to start a diet last summer. My butt looked like two VW Beetles trying to pass each other. :{

Bernita said...

See, goils, you really do both.

Tsavo Leone said...

Someone once told me "it's not the destination that matters, but how you actually get there." Or maybe I just made it up as a way of justifying what I do.

I guess the primary question has to be: am I trying to tell a specific story? If the answer is yes, then what is that story? At this point I know I have to plan my route. However, if the answer is no then the rolling hills and vales beckon and I'm free to explore at my leisure.

Some stories (legitimately) tell themselves, and the 'author' is merely a conduit. And in those instances neither the final destination nor the journey you've undertaken matter in the slightest.

And those are the kinds of rides I like the best.

Bernita said...

Yep. It's the magic stories that write the best.
Sometimes, the place you think you want to go is not where you really should end up.
My point, Tsavo, is that while it's essential to haul out the roadmap and mark your route,one should have sense enough not to be tied to it like a sailor to the mast in the middle of the perfect storm.
Flexibility regarding means to a destination might remove a lot of those wash-outs, fallen trees and ambushes we so often hear whined about as "writer's block"

Robin Caroll said...

I plot under protest....because I have to...because it makes my writing better....because I don't drop a "thread"....but I SO LOVE being a panster!

Tsavo Leone said...

... makes me think of a very large woman bicycling vigorously in white stretch pants, her buttocks jostling each other like two convivial balloons... What was that we were saying about male fantasies (Tall, Dark and Handsome)?

Anyway, you make a good point (re: plot a route but don't stick slavishly to it), although writer's block can sometimes be a good thing, if viewed positively. Stephen King's The Dark Tower would probably never have come into being if King hadn't hit a tree-in-the-road whilst writing The Stand. Likewise Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon which Barker wrote, found himself lured down a blind alley, and then re-wrote from scratch (all 220,000 hand-written words of it) if I recall correctly.

Bernita said...

Ah yes, King ( may his name be praised)I can't resist another platitude: "the exception proves the rule."
My theme: don't be utterly rigid about rules.
Ha. Tsavo just expressed the fact that some men love bodacious, lucious, bountiful women.
Robin, don't you find though that sometimes, the panster takes over within the framework and even supplies interesting threads?

M. G. Tarquini said...

"Panster" makes me think of a very large woman bicycling vigorously in white stretch pants, her buttocks jostling each other like two convivial balloons.

Did my husband send you that photo?

Onto less serious matters:

I write like mad for 20 or 30 pages, ship the thing to my critique circle and get their reactions. If they're all laughing, I ask them, 'Okay, what happens next?'

Gabriele C. said...

I'm an outliner. Ever since my plotless, historically shaky mess of first novel with two dimensional characters.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm a plotter, but forget that, I'm still stuck on the buttocks and cat chocking on butter....word pictures!!!yikes!

Bernita said...

~laughing helplessly~
Comments like M.G's and Robyn's crack me up.
It's whatever works, Gabriele.
Bonnie, any time any image to write about flashes into my mind now, I hear you say "word pictures...word pictures"

jason evans said...

Bernita, I'm with you. A bit of both. A plotter without pants can lead to embarrassment. And pants without direction is Paris Hilton.

Bernita said...

Jason,neatly put... think what you're doing to Bonnie!