There’s a question that’s been posed a few times on various writing pages – all, given some variance, asking the question whether – and what – components writing can be broken down into and practiced individually.
Previously I dismissed such ideas, writing certainly does have plenty of components all of which require practice and development, but good writing isn’t just an amalgam of those components, but all the aspects of a great story are interdependent upon each other and thusly practicing individual parts would be less like leg day, and more like ‘left leg day’ (just checking that’s not a thing right??)
However I’d been reflecting on the idea lately and it just happened to come up on r/writing recently and I figured it was a good prompt to get my thoughts onto the screen/blog.
Suffice to say I’ve revised my position, of course I still believe good writing is a complex interdependent process, but I do think there are some possibilities for compartmentalization for a developing writing.
Before I dive into my opinion of the possibilities I would like to add a caution. There are simply some things you can’t escape in regards to writing, such as prose. It’s going to be pretty hard to practice any part of writing without some focus on the words you use. This might sound kind of obvious, or perhaps so basic as to be pointless to discuss, however I think prose is an undernourished discussion point in writing (which I plan on being a whole other post) and to attempt to practice anything else writing wise while not considering your words, style, tone, sentences and so forth would be a fools errand at best. Similarly you would have a hide time separating certain aspects of fiction from others, dialogue from character for example.
My key point is that if one does embark on a journey of component practice to simply ensure one is aware of the interconnecting factors and not to sabotage their practice by neglecting vital components.
Caveats said, what are some ways a writer might practice, and what components are important?
First I’m going to dive into a controversial area:
Personally I am not a big fan of fanfiction, I don’t write or read it. The closest I get is enjoying TV adaptations. BUT I do believe supporters that fanfiction is a good way to practice writing. The fact that a known universe is being used allows a writer to practice more ‘2nd act’ type writing focusing more on action tension and resolution without having to worry so much about introducing characters or settings.
One caution I would add here however is that what people are looking for in fanfiction is not always the same as mainstream fiction,.
Another area that can be compartmentalized is story structure and scene order, which can be practiced by:
The dreaded synopsis and/or outline
I think beginning writers shy aware from synopsis and outlining perhaps understandably being intimidated (well at least I am) by a surprisingly challenging task, but I am a strong advocate for the benefits of writing these out. I’m not saying that people have to through their pants away and become outline gurus, what I’m saying that if people wish to practice different components of writing then outlines and synopsis’ can provide the tool to practice the macro-level stuff of a book, for example planning character arcs, act structure, rising and falling tension and so forth.
Now as to other components I think there is a bit more of a requirement to combine pieces of the puzzle. As I said earlier some parts of fiction simply rely on others. You can technically write dialogue only, but all on its lonesome it simply won’t be as powerful (it would be akin to trying to practice long jump without the run-up). My advice for the following components would be to develop flash fiction or short stories with a predominant focus on that component, for example a character driven tale with little action, or a very vivid descriptive piece.
Which of course brings us to what components are there?
To be perfectly honest I don’t know if I can safely list all the important components of writing that one could practice to mastery, but I will take a crack:
- Prose (including style, tone, voice, word choice, sentences, paragraphs etc)
- Characters (including intros, backstory, development and arcs)
- Narrative summary
- Act structure
- Scene structure
- Scene order
I’m sure there are other components to practice in writing, what do you think?