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Zen and the Art of Storytelling. 
14th-Jun-2010 02:10 pm
books
Even though it was cancelled as part of my book club, I am currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and enjoying it completely after having to let go of my preconceptions of what the book would be about. One paragraph I came across today reads:
...all the writers the students were supposed to mimic wrote without rules, putting down whatever sounded right, then going back to see if it still sounded right and changing it if it didn't. There were some who apparentlt wrote with calculating premeditation because that's the way their product looked. But that seemed to him a very poor way to look. It had a certain syrup, as Gertrude Stein once said, but it didn't pour.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Prisig, 1999. p176
That paragraph in a lot of ways hit home for me, and after a few minutes'  thought, I realised this is exactly the problem I have with Grant Morrisson's writing. His work frequently has a feel of being constructed, rather than sculpted. For some people. this is great - I know fans have had all sorts of fun deconstructing and annotating Final Crisis and Batman and Robin, and it is fun to do that. The trouble is that  when the construction is complicated (c.f. Final Crisis)  there's very little to satisfy the reader who wants a straightforward linear story (and I hold that a story which doesn't have a straightforward linear narrative, fails as a story, no matter what Morrisson was trying to say about stories), and when it's shallow (c.f. Batwoman's appearances in Batman and Robin) it's clumsy and awkward.

[I bring up Batwoman here because it bothered me. Morrisson appeared to have made a list of basic character traits from Rucka's 'TEC run (help from Colonel Dad, check. Wears a wig, check. Lesbian, check.) and plonked them on the story utterly unneccessarily. It was clunky and clumsy and while Morrisson's work just usually isn't to my taste, this was just low quality.]

Batman 700 falls into this trap as well, as well. Morrisson pulls his usual trick of shoehorning as much mythos into a story deliberately constructed to do just that, and nothing else. Writing-wise, it's OK - but when you're talking about a writer as acclaimed as Morrison, 'OK' is not what you want (but frequently what I get). Nevertheless, the art, as you'd expect  from Daniels, Quitely and the Kuberts, is absolutly stunning.

Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance talks a lot about the difference between sculpture and construction, and how there isn't a difference, really, it's in the heart of the sculptor - or of the reader. When I write I tend to plot as construction; following rules I set for myself and aiming at products I design for myself, but I characterise as sculpture; the people I populate my writing with come from feeling and intuition. I've always felt my characterisation was worlds better than my plotting, and now I realise why, exactly - I like storytelling that's intuitive and flows, but I only have the knack for that in constructing characters, rather than plots.

Something tio work on.
This post is also posted at InnerBrat @ Dreamwidth. Feel free to join in the conversation wherever you feel most comfortable.
Opinions 
14th-Jun-2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
I know exactly what you mean about Grant Morrison. I think I described it once as him talking at the reader instead of talking to the reader.
14th-Jun-2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
I'd agree with some of those examples - certainly Final Crisis - but at the same time, something like All Star Superman is a brilliant example of simple, direct superheroics done straight and true and right, and in the process being not only a great story for fans, not even just a great introduction to the character (or genre) for a novice, but essentially the Bible except done much better.
14th-Jun-2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
I did genuinely enjoy All-Star Superman. Possibly because I don't know Superman, so could enjot the shallow level things? I don't think it (it has an unfortunate acronym) really represents the problems I talked about here.
14th-Jun-2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're enjoying the Pirsig. He's definitely one of the most approachable serious philosophers I know of, and Zen[...] really is an excellent piece of work.

As for what you're saying about fiction, yes. I've been stumbling toward some intuition about fiction for years. In large part because my non-fiction writing is extremely good, but my fiction is... iffy. And I think it may be the construction/sculpting thing... maybe? Something about good fiction being deeply intuitive, being about slipping past the ways we know to talk and our ability to analyze, and still being true and personal and everything.

Not very coherent at the moment,
Ana
17th-Jun-2010 03:02 am (UTC)
Humph. Chris Yost just finished that year=long run on Red Robin, which I consider better than anything Morrison has done since the first arc of the rebooted JLA--and no one cared.

Honestly, I wonder if the fanboys have any comprehension of what writing is when they praise him.
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