Wait, what was I saying?

Thanks to my new Netflix subscription (squee!!) I finally watched the movie version of THE KITE RUNNER this weekend, and I loved it. I thought everything (i.e., the controversial rape scene) was handled tastefully, the two young actors were fantastic, and the story was absolutely amazing. For the first half of the movie I nearly forgot I was watching a movie set in Afghanistan, which I had always pictured as a bleak, war-torn desert. (That comes in the second half.) So I really appreciated that in addition to a high-quality story, I got a fresh take on a foreign land and culture. Now I’m definitely motivated to read the book, which has been sitting in my “to read” pile for about three years…

Whenever something excites me like this story did, I Google the sh*t out of it. In my attempt to discover how autobiographical the story really is, I came across this interview with THE KITE RUNNER’s author Khaled Hosseini, and I enjoyed much of what he had to say about the writing process. A couple highlights:

For me it always starts from a very personal, intimate place, about human connections, and then expands from there.

Me too. As a reader/viewer, I enjoy all sorts of stories — action, history, romance, scifi — but as a writer, I have a hard time staying focused and finishing unless I care about the characters and their journey. This means I probably won’t write stories quite as action-packed as Tom Clancy’s or Stephen King’s, but hopefully I can find a good middle ground (like J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter). Or even Khaled Hosseini, in this case.

Often, as I write, stories are transformed, turn into something altogether different, and I am always surprised by where they end up taking me.

Yaaaay, another point for the non-planners!

“Huh, what?”

Allow me to explain.

The outline vs. let-it-flow debate is a fierce one. I see the pros and cons to each side, and I think I’ve ultimately settled upon a good (copout) answer: it depends on the story. Some need very disciplined direction; they won’t work unless you know exactly where you’re going and more or less how you plan to get there. But others would be stunted by that structured of an approach; they would lose their natural ebb and flow, becoming more of a swimming pool than a sea.

Personally I go for an in-between method that I call connecting-the-dots. I plot out certain points and then just try to write a path from one to the next.

For my first manuscript, THE GOOD DAUGHTERS, I started out with no real plan, just a few very spread out dots. (Not so much “A to B” as “A to Y to Q”…) Then when I made it my senior thesis project, I tried to give it some more structure, plan it out a little better. That helped me stay on track for deliverables to my thesis advisor, definitely, but because I’d switched tacks partway through, the novel didn’t cohere very well. Now that I’ve “finished” it, I find myself extremely daunted by the revision because it’s going to be so. much. work!

For my second manuscript, I’m trying to be a little more strategic. I’ve got an “outline” (i.e., significantly more dots than I had for THE GOOD DAUGHTERS) and I think it’s going to work. But ask me again in six months. We’ll see.

ANYWAY, as I was saying, THE KITE RUNNER movie is quite good, and I highly recommend it to anyone who can take a serious — but ultimately uplifting — story.

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4 Comments

  1. Hahaha, I remember interviewing you about planned (New House 5) vs. unplanned (erm… something about werewolves?) student novels when I was a freshman and you were a junior.

    Not that I have that much experience with, er, finishing things… but I think it’s easy to let it flow, then add more deliberate A-B connections when revising.

  2. Haha, I remember that too.

    Well, let’s just say I’ve (mostly) had a change of heart. I think for shorter stories I can still let things flow, but for novels, I’m finding it impossible to stay focused and motivated if I don’t have a decent sense of where I’m going.

    Now of course, that’s just for me. Lots of successful writers do things differently. I think it really comes down to personal work style.

  3. diane

    I agree about structure vs. non-structure. I feel the same way about formal essays vs. blogs. On blogs (at least mine), it’s okay to ramble and not go straight from A to B to C. But in a formal essay, you don’t want to waste people’s time, you want to get straight to the point, and you want everything to flow in a logical manner. That requires brainstorming and good planning…or halfway through you realize you’ve written in circles.

    That’s why I’m sticking to blogs for now. Expectations are MUCH lower. I’m just shooting from a “Whee Diane is alive and well” reaction from my mother and friends. ;)

  4. diane

    *for a

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