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Thread: Narrative vs Mechanics

  1. #1
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    Default Narrative vs Mechanics

    I've come to realize that a lot of the people I talk to about writing are also writers and it's sort of skewed my opinions on the craft and what makes good literature good. I just recently had a conversation with a friend (not a writer) about what she likes in books. Needless to say, there was a bit of a disconnect.



    Without going into too much detail the issue was ultimately narrative vs mechanic.
    She preferred books focused heavily on narrative, she just really wanted to get to the meat of the story and how the world and the characters within it interacted. She really couldn't be bothered to read an experimental style that requires more deliberate reading and attention to the words being used and how they're being used. Shit's boring to her.

    Narrative: the story, the characters, the world.
    Mechanic: the words, the structure, the sounds.


    There isn't really much to say about this. The answer is obviously finding that balance within your own style. But I'm curious:


    Do you enjoy books more invovled with narrative or mechanics?
    In your own writing, do you see a 50/50 split between the two? 70/30? 90/10?

    And the money shot: Narrative can be explored in very creative ways. Telling an original story. Building an interesting and changing world. Creating deep and nuanced characters. But what about mechanics? What makes an experimental style of writing new and interesting vs presumptuous and non-sensical?
    Last edited by Dr awkwa rD; 04-18-2012 at 11:35 AM.
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  2. #2

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    The mechanics have to be good - I shouldn't rolling my eyes at all the problems in a book. But the narrative has to be great. If the book is well-written, but I don't care about the characters, or the conflict, or what they risk losing in the conflict, then I'm going to get bored and stop reading the book. And popular books reflect this: Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games are all only decent in the mechanics category - the first Harry Potters especially. But even the densest people can realize that what they like about Harry Potter is the characters, or they like the love triangle in Twilight, or the story of the Hunger Games.

    When I write, I tend to not worry so much about how its written in terms of mechanics anymore. My language is sparse, and the only description I really pay attention to is the description that gets in the way. I also take solace in the fact that I may not write like Tolkien, or _____ (insert great descriptive writer here) but my book could still be loved by millions.

    At the same time, there is one important aspect of writing that I would say falls under Mecahnics (though it could be narrative too) and that is the voice. Publishers and readers want voice in what they read - otherwise it's just a flat, business-like telling of events that gets you from point A to B. Voice is established through word choice, the structure of sentences, amongst other things, which is why I say it's a mechanic. In my current novel, I know that _____ would never say some of the sarcastic things another character says, _____ speaks formally that I can never include a contraction, and _____ has such an interesting voice that you could easily tell it's him speaking without the speech tag. Above all, I think drastic experiments in voice are the most noticeable aspects of a text - look at A Clockwork Orange, or anything by a foregin author (usually you can see, if they've written the English version themselves, the voice that is characteristic of their country of origin).

    Above all, I think voice is probably the most difficult thing to learn as a writer. It's something I think I have to work on outside of dialogue.
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  3. Default

    I tend to lean towards reading and writing mechanic. I find it easier and more enjoyable, perhaps that's why I've been leaning towards poetry lately.

    I think the biggest thing to look at here is your purpose and audience. If you trying to write the next Great American Novel than the mechanic side would play a bigger part. I'd like to point out books like 1984, and Fahrenheit 451. I believe that their ability to get their concept across to their reader beautifully and concisely is one of the things that make them great. But then one could argue that they would need to have the solid idea first, which is narrative. So perhaps here it would be more of a balance.
    But If you're trying to write the next best seller than the narrative side would come more into play. I agree with Infinity Man above.

    I think audience is important to note here too. If your writing for little kids your narrative can be very simple, but mechanics become even more important. Look at doctor sues, or the books kids learn from. If your an older kid narrative is usually more important. But if your a poetry major, I would think mechanics would be a big deal.

    I personally don't tend to think about audiance or purpose when writing, I just write in my style. But if your picking apart preferences or looking for somewhere to place a piece, I think that's when audience and purpose and mechanics vs. narration comes into play.
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  4. #4

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    I tend to prefer to focus on narrative, with about a 70:30 split in narrative's favour. However, I do find that mechanics are important in a novel and sometimes I like to bring that kind of thing to the fore on a micro level, like, for example, if I'm making a quick setting description, or describing a character's action.

    Not really being a narrative person, I'm not really sure what makes a new and unique style, but I have noticed that since I've started writing, I've been drawn out of the story more often when I see a sentence or paragraph with writing I dislike. Conversely, when I see something really nice, I stop to admire it. Generally, I agree 100% with Infinity_Man on voice. I think that for me, an interesting style is one with effective description vs plenty of description, that fits the character or narrative voice and plenty of dialogue that is again in character and shows the character's reactions to a given situation, or their emotion, without requiring dialogue tags. Seeing some good in character thoughts directly without an 'I thought' or 'I wondered' also seems to please me for some odd reason. I also tend to favour sparse prose rather than something more poetic, that conveys ideas in a concise way (as Unknowable has mentionned). Lots of nicely intergrated world building is always a bonus, although I don't mind if the author uses footnotes, especially if they're written in character (I think there's a theme emerging here :P).

    You can probably tell where my interests lie within narrative. For me, characters always come first. I think that a group of deep, engaging characters with clear goals that contradict each other will provide endless conflict (both internal and external) and a good voice (if they are used as a viewpoint). Plot usually follows and I try to make it equal second with pacing and suspense. After I've got these things in order and have started editing, then I usually go back and look at the mechanics more.

  5. #5

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    Obviously having sucky mechanics or narrative...well... sucks.

    However for fictional writing, when it's a story (non-poetry), I imagine the narrative takes greater weight. Mechanics of course are NECESSARY, but bad mechanics will be less harmful imo than bad narrative assuming that they are both the same level of badness corresponding to the average. I say this because stories are ABOUT the narrative. There are prose structures which would give precedence to mechanics, even if there is a narrative, such as an epic poem. Even if the story to an epic poem isn't that great, good mechanics can save the day, and a lot of the power of the story will come from the mechanics.
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  6. #6

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    You know, in psychology there is such notion as visualists, audialists, etc. Depending on what kind of person you are, you pay attention to what is important for you. For example, visualists can be also called esthete, thus, structures and words are of extreme importance for them. They need to experience beauty.
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