Dependent Formation

Another rough draft got to its full length yesterday. It sparked this idea, but it’s not really what I want to talk about in this post. Also, I’m a bit sleep deprived at the moment, so bear with me.

In Buddhism, there is a principle called dependent arising. It essentially states that all phenomena have their origins in multiple sources. So a personal habit originates from temperament, training, and habit. And all those things arise from other phenomena. Dependent arising means that there is no single source of everything.

While I appreciate Buddhist principles, I should note here that while I’m a student and admirer of the religion, I am also a Christian (of sorts). That is not the point of this essay but keep it in mind if it helps you understand my perspective on dependent arising.

Dependent arising as a principle can be applied to both the process of writing fiction and the art of storytelling in some ways I find to be interesting. Process first.

The process of writing a book is rife with places to explore the principle of dependent arising. I’m going to stick to two of them.
1 – Origins of Ideas
2 – Chronological Writing

Ideas come from writers’ lives, and from older ideas. Say I start out hammering away at notes for one story, perhaps one about food centrism, which say I then give up on or don’t have time to write for a long time. Then, perhaps a few months or years later I come back and start with the idea again and take it a direction I’m more interested in. That’s the most direct way this works.

Here’s another example. Brandon Sanderson is a writer I enjoy reading, and I’ve heard a fair amount about his process due to the great podcast, Writing Excuses, on which he is a host. Sanderson’s books focus a lot on gods and the meaning of deification, and each book moves the exploration of this theme to different places, at least, if he’s successful (I think he is, but that’s neither here nor there). Sanderson, I assume, doesn’t write about gods because he stopped one day and said. “Gee, I think I’ll write about this thing. That’d make some good stories.” More likely I would say he started something like this: “I’m gonna write a book.” And maybe he’d ask himself straight away what he wanted in the book. But most (To cover my ass I won’t say ALL) writers don’t choose a theme based on commercialism or random chance. We write about things that are important to us. We think about things we think matter.

Point two is more personal to me. Chronological writing is usually part of my style. I like to write books in chronological order, though I’ve dabbled in other methods. If I write in a straight line the simple fact is I can tell where things come from in the story. In one sense I also use this in reverse, because I like to have an idea how it’ll end before I start. I keep that sense of the ending vague though, because if I don’t the things that change as I write the first draft change the ending too much. Events give rise to more events, and the consequences thereof. There isn’t as much to say about this one, but having just written a book with this method I felt like discussing its implications.

I am feeling my lack of sleep. I’ll keep this last bit short. But it is pretty simple.
Fictional stories flow from conflict. Conflict flows from character. Characters live in a world. And the world is shaped by past characters. Through this cycle a story is shaped.

So yeah, that’s my ramble today. Could have used more sleep. Ha! That’s new.


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