As detailed many times in The Writer, the means that fiction writers use to get a story going range all the way from detailed outlines to basically nothing at all—just winging it, you might say. The latter approach of a non-method method is practiced by novelist Michael Ondaatje and interestingly described in a 2007 Washington Post article that recently came my way. As Post reporter Bob Thompson notes, Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, Anil's Ghost and Divisadero, pushes improvisation to an extreme:
He begins with fragmentary images or situations—a plane crashing in the desert, say, or a bedridden man talking to a nurse—and starts constructing scenes from the fragments. It will be several years before "a kind of approximate draft" materializes. Then comes a prolonged self-editing phase, crucial to Ondaatje's creative process, which can take two more years.
"I move things around," he has explained, "till they become sharp and clear, till they are in the right location. And it is at this stage that I discover the work's true voice and structure."
Permit me to quote the literary relative who clued me in to this article, who has, shall we say, a viewpoint. Writing of Ondaatje's completely improvisational approach, she writes: "You have to be a pretty darn good writer to allow your plot to meander here and there with no direction and still be enjoyable for your reader. If he did not infuse his writing with such brilliant poetry and metaphor, truly well done, no one would put up with this crap. Readers want PLOT and a discernable story arc, unless you're A GENIUS. So good for him, but your readers should be wary."
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