Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Great Balancing Act

photo by jackol/Mikhail Esteves

In recent conversations about writing, I've begun to articulate my personal 'manifesto' on what I strive for in the work.  It also informs me in my reading and formal critique.

It's the concept of the great balancing act (or why the whole literary vs genre war in the world of fiction doesn't make much sense to me).

On the one side is true emotion.  On the other, craft.  I believe they need to be in dynamic balance with one another across the tightrope, or the work falls (fails).

Emotion without craft risks work with maudlin greeting card sentimentality.  At worst, it feels manipulative, at best, angst-ridden or embarrassingly cringe-worthy.

Craft without emotion risks work that is sterile.  At worst, manipulative, exclusionary, at best, simply distancing and empty.

But work that joins true emotion with the precision of craft, regardless of genre, can create art of lasting impact and beauty.  There are poems, stories, paintings, and pieces of music I return to again and again simply to experience that beautiful and terrible balance.  Van Gogh's Sunflowers do that to me, as does hearing great swaths of Shakespeare performed aloud.  Then there is Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" which never fails to send chills down my spine.

And there are books.  Stories like Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" that continue to have impact in my life decades after I read it for the first time as a young teen.  Or a single line: "They were promised a man of peace." From Patricia A McKillip's "Riddle Master" series.  These are fantasy books. Genre fiction.  Perhaps not initially written to be "great" literature, and yet they both are works of artistic creation that join honest emotion to solid craft.

I am looking at my own body of work with this critical eye.  My promise to myself and to my future readers is this:

I will write with emotional honesty
I will remain true to the story and its characters
I will never manipulate or patronize my reader
I will respect my reader and the work by careful attention to craft
I will keep learning and growing as a writer


  1. great post. I, too, hate to feel manipulated and try not to do that in my own writing. Jillian

  2. I was very encouraged to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this informative and useful read. I definitely savored every little bit of it including all the promises and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  3. Jillian and Irishpoetry--thank you for stopping by and leaving your comments.

  4. excellent post, it's that elusive balance, so vital to find and maintain!