Saturday, November 15, 2008

Instinct vs Intellect

I hate writing discussions. They always make me feel dumb. There's nothing like hopping on a blog and seeing a good juicy discussion about plot and characterization, only to find that about ten posts in people have gotten into context and sub-context, primary versus secondary levels of conflict, the seven layers of strength, and whatever other molecular writing aspects there are out there. It's not long before my eyes start to glaze over, my brain freezes, and I start feeling as though my books must certainly be lacking the intimate depth everyone else is apparently writing into their novels.

Until my books are reviewed, and the reviewer points out all kinds of nuances I hadn't realized were there. It's then that I realize that my writing is as complex as the next person's, I just don't intellectualize it. For me, those subtleties of character and plot are written instinctively. Sort of a plotter vs pantster but not in a general book kind of way. I plot my books, pantst the depth. Which I think makes me an instinctual writer versus an intellectual one.

I'll never forget the time I read Debra Dixon's book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict. It was very early in my writing career, I was far from being published, and had only recently started working with a CP. The book had come highly recommended, and as I read it, I kept going back to my WIP and trying to find the GMC in my book. It was nowhere. In fact, I couldn't even fill out the charts in Deb's book, and, of course, I panicked. Apparently, I was learning, you can't have a good book without GMC, and my WIP had none. So I promptly e-mailed my woes to my CP.

Who responded by outlining the GMC in my book for me. It was there. I just hadn't seen it.

It could be that the people who intellectualize the writing process are those who've studied literature. I do admit that the more I write and learn, the more I'm consciously plotting in the concepts. I now more readily recognize conflict and character dynamics and intentionally work them into books as I'm planning them. But I don't think I'll ever be one of those writers who can think too far below the basics before I sit down to start writing. Instead, my approach tends to be one born out of logic and driven by plot points that need to connect from A to B. I throw action into a scene, then think logically how my character would react--or logically how I need them to react in order to get to the next point. Somehow, out of that, a character is shaped, but it's very organic as opposed to intellectually mapped.

And it never fails that at some point when someone has read my work, they'll make a comment that gives me revelations about what I've written. It's as if the discovery process isn't even complete once I've finished the story. It continues with every new viewpoint that is added to the mix.

So tell me, are you someone who likes to dissect the books you've read? If you're a writer, do you think you write more from intellect or from instinct?

Lori's latest Harlequin Blaze, "Unleashed", was awarded the Romantic Times BookClub Magazine's Top Pick! It's on sale now through the end of November at your local bookstores.

For more information, check out her website at, or her daily blog at


Diana Holquist said...

Hi Laurie.

Great blog. I want your critique partner! What a gift!

I'm a major pantser (no plotting), so I read all the how-to books, make all the charts, then put them in a drawer and laugh about them later. I thought THAT was going to happen? How absurd!

The important thing: just keep on writing!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

I LOVE THIS POST! I am SUCH an instinct writer. I could totally relate.

I'm told my stories always have great structure. And I smile and say, "Oh. That's nice." And then think, huh. What's good structure? LOL.

Most of the time my critique partners or my editors or agent are the ones to tell me what my characters' GMC, etc are...after the fact of me writing the book. LOL!

I think that inate ability toward sound story structure came from being an avid reader.

No other explanation. LOL!

Great post.


Helen said...

I am a reader and I do love to talk about the books I have read but unfortunatley I don't have many people to talk to them about a lot of my friends haven't discovered how wonderful a romance novel is I do discuss them on the net and am always recomending books to my sister but she dosen't read a quick as I do.
I am going to The Australian Romance Readers Convention in Feb 09 in Melbourne and am so looking forward to talking to other people who feel the same way I do about romance novels.

Have Fun

Lori Borrill said...

Donna and Cheryl, so glad I'm not alone! Thanks for posting and letting me know!

And Helen, I hope you have a wonderful time at the convention. I'm sure you will. I've found romance writers and readers are about the nicest group of people around. Maybe it's our innate affection for all things happy ever after.

If you haven't found that's another place where you can talk to lots of readers about romance, regardless of whether it's Harlequin or not. At the bottom of the main page, click on the "Talk" option and you will find all the great discussions going on. I was actually a little overwhelmed at first, so much on-line chatting going on. But it's a great place to connect with other readers from all over the world.

Estella said...

I don't dissect---I just read.

Michelle Styles said...

Ultimately, if people could explain exactly why a story works, then they would bottle it. Writing like all creative processes is something that is not necessarily scientific or logical. It is why it is creative.
The problem with dissecting is that sometimes you focus on the hole instead of the doughnut.
Many of the dissecting tools are for those times when the scene/story feels flat -- ie when you are EDITING as opposed to writing the first draft.
I still live by the maxim that between a writer and the blank page very little of profit can help, but afterward there are tools...How one uses the tools depends on the personality of the writer.
One of the things I know editors are trained to do, and I have had to retrain myself -- is to read the book first like a reader, rather than a writer.

Jasmine Haynes said...

I love your cover, Lori!

Probably because I am a writer, I dissect books I read all the time. I try to figure out what I like or don't like. For instance, in Linda Howard's Death Angel, I wanted to know why I so quickly sypathsized with two characters one would normally find to be villains.

Thanks for a great blog.

Gina said...

I like to disect a book. lt makes me identify more with the characters

Lori Borrill said...

I often set out with the intent to dissect a book when I'm reading, but before I know it, I'm getting into the story and forgetting that I'm supposed to be paying attention to style and technique.

I actually have gone back over to reread some of my favorite authors, taking notes here and there as to how they do it. But in general, I think I just absorb unconsciously. (At least, I hope I'm absorbing! LOL!)

Michelle, I think you're right. If there really was a how-to book that answered all, it's possible we'd all be out of business.

And thanks, Jasmine! I think my two most recent covers have been my favorites for sure.

Michele L. said...

I am an avid reader and love a variety of genres but romance stories are my all time favorites! I love talking to other people about books. The bookstore I go to, I am friends with owner and she loves talking about the books she reads and recommends different ones to me. I have found many new authors that way!

Blogs are so much fun! They are my window to the world!

Have a great week! We got 8 inches of snow here today!

Michele L.