The French are the masters of contradictory concepts, such as the belle laide: the ugly beauty. Then there’s my personal favorite: the idiot savant, the learned fool.
These concepts are always hard to translate, but the idiot savant is someone who manages to perform brilliantly at something without really knowing the how or why. Sometimes, I feel that way as a writer. (Without the brilliantly bit!). An even better analogy might be ice skating. Have you ever glided happily along until you realize you have no idea what you’re doing, look down, get tangled in your own feet, and fall?
This is all a very long way of saying that a lot of writing happens on the level of pure instinct. Most of us who write do so because we read. We grew up as readers. The basics of narrative are imprinted in the pathways of our brains. We don’t necessarily know why a story works, but we can tell you when it does.
When we write, we call upon everything we’ve learned from all those books we’ve read. I’ve heard many writer friends refer to an intuitive sense of pacing and structure. When we talk about how we do what we do, it’s often a case of reverse engineering. We write it that way because it sounds right to us– but if someone asks, we have to stop and figure out why it sounds right.
All this is to say, maybe, like ice skating, it’s best not to look at your feet too much. If you’re a lifetime reader, you probably know a number of the tricks of the trade subconsciously, even if you may not have the exact technical terms to describe them.
I remember, years ago, as a teenager, reading a Writer’s Digest article on viewpoint and thinking, “That’s what they call that!” I’d been managing viewpoint in my manuscripts, using it for dramatic effect, limiting the number of viewpoint characters, because that was what I had seen done in the books I admired. It made sense. The article simply gave it a name.
This may sound counter-intuitive in a series of posts about writing, but… if you’re comfortable with what you’re doing, don’t over-analyse it too much. If it’s working, there’s no need to pick it apart. The point of the exercise is to put words on the page. If you’re already doing that, stopping to think about how you’re putting them on the page… well, it kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
On the other hand, it’s when you do stumble over your skates that the technical background comes in handy. That’s when you want your toolbox of writerly tricks. But the rest of the time? If it ain’t broke….