bITS 'N CHUNKS
Is what Antoine Doinel exclaims when his parents discover his shrine to Honore de Balzac in The 400 Blows.
I think about that scene a lot when I think about what my writing templates are. Doinel ends up kind of sort of not really but really on purpose plagiarizing Balzac. But before that it's clear Doinel at least idolizes Balzac. You can interpret that scene however but to me Antoine was using Balzac as a sort of palimpsest.
I had a conversation a few years ago in which I was finally able to articulate the concept of a "template" (not a concept I made up, by the way, just something I hadn't realized) to another writer. We were talking about -- wait for it -- fanfiction and what made our fics so unique. I had bowed out of the conversation because at least at the time I wasn't really writing fic anymore, or much of anything. But I had a Pepperidge Farms Back In My Day moment in which I revealed what I felt like I brought to the table.
I remember his attitude was "I can write coherently" and I couldn't deny that argument because this was during the days where fic posted online was still kind of a joke. Depending on your scene you were either in it for the ludicrous porn, Chris Claremont was writing your comic series, or your show got canceled before the end of the season. And that's to say nothing of the big lumbering fandom giants like Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Files, DC & Marvel, and so on. The serious stuff was circulated in fanzines and only big authors with awards to their names had websites and webrings.
So when he said that I was like, "mmhmm." Then I revealed something I was proud of and something of folly about my writing evolution, that my writing was often long and elaborate and extra melodramatic because that was what my template called for.
"What do you mean 'template'?"
Then I finally managed to articulate it: I was copying! No, wait, I was copying a format but almost to the depths of self-parody. I think we all do that, because who teaches you how to write before you learn how to write? Whatever you're reading. It just so happens that by then I was already reading Greek tragedies, Christian apologetics texts (more on that later), Russian literature, and Roman biographies and philosophical texts. I was all over the place with my clever Classical Literature references in my anime stories.
What’s my favorite template? A mixture of Ancient Greek and modern Russian. Both of these taught me that I prefer psychological human drama and flawed beings. That's probably why I can't really do action scenes to this day. Russian lit taught me how to do a dark, brooding anti-hero without making them overly cynical and dark for the sake of being dark. From Ancient Greek (and later modern Greek) writing I discovered how to do believable dialogue against supernatural forces since in plays and poems, characters were often talking directly to the gods (or beings thought of as gods). I learned the cycles of plot development and probably most importantly the meaning of catharsis. But uh, I read the Iliad twice and still can't do a decent horse battle.
Sigh. At some point I discovered the line between clever, intelligence, and pretention and realized I'd gone off the deep end, but by then I had stopped writing. But back to the whole template thing, because that's what my belly was full off that's what I spewed out. Like I said, it's not bad. It has a time and a place. I think of dense texts like The Name of the Rose where a little research and assumption of the audience is very rewarding. I still use templates, I just understand writing better now and I quite honestly enjoy postmodernism. A few things I'm proud of is my work was certainly unique and memorable. Somehow I never ended up on anyone's MST hit list and I'm kind of appalled.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...