(guest article on http://www.djadamson.com/lartiste)
Why is the left brain as important as the right brain in writing a novel?
When I first received the request to comment about applying both sides of the brain to writing a novel, I thought it was a case of excessive introspection. Of course, I knew that the right side of the brain is tuned in to matters of creativity and imagination, while the left side of the brain applies itself to such assignments as logic and analysis. The problem is that while the foregoing describes the results of research on the brain, it is foreign to the way an author applies himself or herself to the writing process, at least in a formal sense.
The fact is that both sides of the brain have to be engaged at the same time, during both the creative writing phase and the revision phase. I find that to be particularly true in my own case, because I don’t separate those two aspects of writing. I revise as I write. People have asked me how many drafts I generate before I consider a book to be finished, but I give them a blank stare because I have only one computer file draft which I continuously update.
From the very beginning of tackling the writing of a novel, both subjective and objective aspects of writing are required. Rule Number One is to start off with an opening that grabs the attention of a browsing reader and makes him or her want to read more. No matter how wonderfully creative your book’s concept is (right side of brain), it will not have much impact unless you frame the opening sentence or paragraph in a way that causes the reader to want to learn more. This requires analysis and experimentation to generate that perfect opening (left side of brain). In practice, the writer doesn’t separate the two efforts, but rather meshes them together as in the gear train of a mechanism. Continuous application of both creativity and analysis is required, or you have half a gear train that doesn’t mesh with anything.
Per the title question, I agree that logic and analysis are very important to novel writing. There are many specific tools and techniques that simplify the process and help you to generate an enthralling story while avoiding making mistakes that will be obvious to the careful reader. I discuss more than one hundred of these in one of my presentations, “The Mystery Writer’s Toolbox.”
Without getting into individual techniques here, I’ll emphasize the two analytical principles that will lead to good writing, regardless of the subject matter or length. If your work has unity and coherence, it will stand a better chance of success. Unity requires that you have a total story without any unanswered questions or loose ends. All questions introduced during your opening chapters should have been answered or deemed unanswerable (perhaps until the next volume in your series) by the end of your book. Coherence requires that you keep track of all the details of your characters, settings, and events to make sure that they are consistent throughout the book. Examples of inconsistencies are changes in the names of siblings or the spelling of those names and variations in the ages of characters. The revision phase is appropriate for testing for unity and coherence, but those two criteria should be in your mind throughout the writing process.
Yes, the right side of the brain is as important as the left side to the creation of a successful novel; but no, you don’t have to think about your brain’s structure and assigned responsibilities at all. Come up with a good concept. Develop it creatively. Use your dictionary (online or printed). Test for unity and coherence during an intensive revision phase of your effort. Most of all, enjoy being a writer. Writing is fun, and you are doing it to entertain your reader.