[process] More on Consumers and Producers

First of all, my thanks to everyone who commented on the earlier installment of this topic [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. I appreciate the insights and the feedback. And yes, the phrasing of “Consumer” and “Producer” is rather culturally normative of me, but right now I’m trying not to stir too many pots at once, and they’re handy labels that appeal to the Western dualism that sixteen years of elementary, secondary and higher education have beaten into me a few decades back. Not to mention being instantly parsable to virtually everyone reading this blog.

At the end of the previous post, I promised to discuss my recent insight on being a Producer and a Consumer with respect to the writing of Sunspin. I’m still getting there. I especially want to thank the folks at session one of Rainforest Writers Village who were willing to sit still for various installments of this riff as I repeatedly thought out loud.

For me, writing has always been a special case of reading. Which is to say, my Production takes the form of an act of Consumption. My biggest clue to this is the fact that with very rare exceptions, I always write in reading order. This is true even when I’m writing very strange, non-linear fiction. I need to experience the story as the reader will, or the process runs into trouble for me. This is also probably why it took me so many years to learn to craft outlines for novels, and even more years to learn to use them effectively.

In my case, my childhood history of social isolation has a lot to do with this. I grew up mostly overseas, without television and before computer games. We moved every year or two — nine schools on three continents in twelve years. I was always the new kid, I had rotten social skills, and I was too bookish and too bright to fit in until about high school, where being highly verbal and good at homework suddenly acquired social value instead of making me a target for bullying and scorn. So I spent a lot of time telling stories to myself. Not mumbling out loud, but constructing running plots in my head, often with maps and other illustrations doodled in the margins of my schoolwork and elsewhere.

I learned Story by reading immersively and by conducting a very long-running process of autonarration.

So when I write, I am a follow-the-headlights writer. I begin at the beginning, and end at the end, and tend be to quite surprised and delighted at the revelations that present themselves along the road. Like I said, as the author I experience the story in hand much the same way I would experience it as a reader.

This is still true for my short fiction, right up to the 25,000-word length or so. Novels however have required a significant morphing of my process. Even so, though I pre-think novels via the outlining process, while I’m actually drafting I’m still following the headlights. I just have a map now. Sometimes it’s even accurate.

I am quite capable of doing a great deal of critical and literary analysis on my own work. For me, this is all post-facto, occurring when I reach the revision stage. So while the draft is very much an act of the Consumer in me, albeit in a highly specialized fashion, I put on my Producer hat to revise and rewrite. That is where I worry about character arcs and telling details and thematic consistency and story continuity and the tone of the language and all the myriad other things we writers like to sit around in the bar and discuss.

Framed this way, drafting rises from the same subconscious well in which I also Consume Story, revision takes place in the strongly self-conscious mental space of Producing Story.

Until Sunspin came along.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll discuss how the current project is decidedly unsettling my auctorial wa.

5 thoughts on “[process] More on Consumers and Producers

  1. Cora says:

    Your situation is somewhat similar to mine, down to the autonarration and childhood partly spent abroad, though I didn’t rack up that many countries.

    The difference is that my Dad usually worked in countries that were industrialized enough to have TV, books, comics, etc… freely available, though usually in a language I understood only very imperfectly or not at all. As a result I still consumed stories (the ones told in pictures, i.e. TV and comics, because books don’t work if you can’t understand the language) and made up my own story to go with the images and whatever I did manage to understand.

    I did not even understand how relatively uncommon this media experience was until very recently, when one of my 7th grade ESL students complained very forcefully about me showing a TV episode in English sans subtitles (the show in question didn’t have a German release, so there were none) in my class. The boy complained that he couldn’t understand anything (“But you have pictures”, I told him, “And besides, I sum up dialogue bits that are too complicated”) and that he wanted to watch a German film. Interestingly, enough this boy was also entirely unfamiliar with the concept of dubbing. He assumed that films or TV shows with German dialogue had always been German. Since I grew up trying to make sense of films/TV shows in languages I barely understood. English was actually very good, because I could understand it. Dutch was all right, because I could make sense of it. French was bad, but if I was lucky it had Dutch subtitles. If I was very unlucky, the program was in Malaysian or Chinese or some other language I did not speak at all. Consuming media in a foreign language and learning the language in the process was so normal to me that it never occurred to me that some kids might not be able to handle intriguing footage (and I make sure the footage is intriguing) with imperfectly understood dialogue. Though I must say that this kid was an outlier in his extreme resistance, most are quickly caught up in the story, while others just tune out.

    Like you, I also tell stories to entertain myself. Though I write and also imagine stories out of order. I can jump around, imagine and visualize one scene in detail and then jump to a different scene elsewhere in the story. To borrow your metaphor, it’s teleporting by the headlights. I have no idea why my mind works this way, just that it always has.

    Thanks for this series of essays BTW. It is always fascinating to get an insight into a writer’s mind.

    1. Cora says:

      I have no idea why my comment is in Italics, since I didn’t use any formatting.

      1. Jay says:

        Because of an HTML error I made in the post, now fixed. Sorry about that.

        My overseas years were the late 1960s through the early 1980s. Satellite tv wasn’t yet a reality in the home, and VCRs were just appearing, so the only exposure was very limited access to in-country programming in Third World countries. Sounds like you got more out of it than I did.

        1. Cora says:

          Ah, I was wondering whether I had accidentally messed up the formatting.

          I was about a decade behind you and intermittently spent time abroad between 1978 and 1990. And the countries were all industrialized, even those that were nominally considered Third World (which goes to show how flawed that concept was). So television, comics and books were all available, though access to books was limited by language barriers.

          And since I was fairly isolated much of the time, I furnished my surroundings with secret underground civilizations or turned them into alien cities or whatever.

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