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    Book Club: Sayer’s The Mind of the Maker{Chapter 5}

    December 8, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I read this chapter twice, and I just found it all very fascinating. One thing I have been realizing is how much has been written about the act of writing, and how little of that I have read. In other words, it is being driven home to me that I do. not. know. That is what education does for us, though, right? It reminds us of all we didn’t realize we didn’t know, right?

    It does me, anyhow.


    There are so many directions a discussion on any chapter from this book could go, but this time I decided to pick out and share what I learned about writing. I’m sorry if some of this is a simple summary. Basic narration is always the first step to learning, no? Yes!

    Three Basic Ideas

    The chapter is formed around three ideas: free will, the law of nature, and miracles. I will quickly try and define them based upon the reading, and if you think these definitions need refining, please tell me in the comments!
    • Free will: In writing, the characters we create will have free will. What this means is that even though we made them and have absolute authority over them, they will tend to take on a life of their own. There is an extent to which even though they are inside of our heads, they have their own, separate existence. They are a part of us and made by us, but they are not us. As we develop our characters, they will start to “act” in accordance with those natures, sometimes to the point that is causes trouble for the authors because they no longer fit the roles for which we invented them. {I don’t know why I am saying “we” when we all know I have only ever invented bad fiction…}
    • The law of nature: There are different natures that Sayers believes must be respected in writing. The first is the nature of the medium. Writing for a play is different than writing for a book. Each type of writing has its own nature, which we must respect. Likewise, the characters we create {as mentioned above} have their own natures, which we must respect. When we violate these “laws of nature” the results are either bad writing {when we violate the nature of the medium} or unbelievable characters/plots {when we violate the natures of the characters}
    • Miracles: Again, she is discussing writing, and yet there are applications to our relationships with God and to our theology. We commit miracles {I say this because she made them sound like a crime against nature} when we change our character {Sayers calls this “conversion”} and/or our plot {“coincidence”} from their natural courses using divine intervention as the author of the situation. It is assumed that what happens would never have happened had it not been for this intervention–and this, of course, makes the story less than believable.

    What Good Writers Do

    This is one those books where I identify more with her description of what is “bad art” than her description of the opposite. It is like reading a book about sin and seeing yourself in it. My writing transgressions are multitude, it would seem.
    Good writers respect the law of nature. They do not transgress their characters by doing miracles in order to take their plot in the direction they want their story to go. They do not arbitrarily kill off characters or otherwise do violence to the plot in order to accomplish their will in the story. They also respect the law of nature for their medium. A play is a play, a novel is a novel, a fairy tale is a fairy tale, and so on.
    I kept coming back to this tension between characters and plot. Why is it that so many of us write ourselves into corners? Why are so few of us seemingly able to develop the right characters to accomplish–naturally–the plot we desire? Sayers points out that the idea is to conceive of the character and the plot together in one unity. We allow both to develop together, which naturally eliminates this tension.
    My question is how in the world that is supposed to happen? Are there things that we can do to foster this? Or is this what separates the dabblers from the artists? My hunch is that part of this–at least for me and my crazy ideas–is commencing with the writing too soon–not letting ideas marinate for a long time, even for years. When I think back to the immature writing of my youth, much of my problem was likely that I jumped too quickly from idea to page rather than thinking things through.
    This is one possible implication when Sayers says:

    Too much attention should not be paid to those writers who say {holding one the while with a fixed and hypnotic gaze}: “I don’t really invent the plot, you know–I just let the characters come into my mind and let them take charge of it.”…Writers who work in this way do not, as a matter of brutal fact, usually produce very good books. The lay public…rather like to believe in this inspirational fancy; but as a rule the element of pure craftsmanship is more important than most of us are willing to admit.

    This reminds me of when I read about the very detailed outlines that Dickens made. There was a lot of work that went into his books before he put pen to paper for an actual draft.

    Read More:
    -More posts linked at Ordo Amoris
    Buy the book and read along!
    -Get Mind of the Maker for free from Willa’s Readlist

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  • Reply Magistra Jones December 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I completely relate to your thought about identifying with Sayers’ description of bad art. I see myself in that. Your post expresses my thoughts exactly ~ how in the world do authors pull it all together with the characters being true to themselves and interwoven perfectly (it seems) with the plot. How I would love to master this!

    • Reply Ordo-Amoris December 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      I also agree about this. I often read fiction with this in the back of my mind. How is it done? This is probably why I am always so disappointed in modern fiction books even when they come highly recommended. They always seem to be missing something even when the story is good.

      As to blog writing or article writing I have found that while I may start writing off the cuff it is usually something I have thought about for years. Blogging is nice because you never have to just write for no reason at all. You only have to write when you have something to say. My own mother tried to write fiction and children’s books but she would sit down every day and try to think of something to write. I only write when I have something to say which is easier, I think, but I wish I did have an ability to write something like the Lord Peter books or To Kill a Mockingbird or Jane Austen’s works. I guess because I do write I have great respect for those who can do something that seems impossible to me.

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