Writing Is A Bad Habit: Hard Hats and Sledgehammers a.k.a. Deconstruction and Reconstruction

Genres, tropes, and archetypes form the building blocks of fiction, something that’s very hard, if impossible, to dispute.  We use these things as guidelines and molds because that resonate with our culture, our history, and our life experiences.  However, that doesn’t mean these things are perfect.  Often they are far from it.  Couple that with the march of progress and the changes our culture undergoes at a progressively faster speed, you can be left with a sense that these tried-and-true story bricks can crumble with age.  There are some things you can do about that though, namely deconstruction and reconstruction.

Deconstruction is the process of taking a trope or genre or the like, one that usually requires suspension of disbelief or certain cinematic sensibilities to work, and placing it into a ‘real’ setting, thus ‘breaking’ it.  On the surface, this may seem to be malicious (and it sometimes is!) but most often deconstruction is done to pull apart a seemingly tired trope and analyze it, both its good elements and bad elements, in an effort to breathe new life in it.  A deconstruction should be as much about why we find the trope compelling as about why the trope doesn’t work or is unrealistic.

It’s that particular wrinkle that can trip up many an author that wants to center their work around the deconstruction of something.  There is a tendency to get stuck in the rut of slamming on the unfeasibility of it in the ‘real’ world that the writer plunges from deconstruction into straight parody, satire, or even into a straight ‘assassination’ of what they intended to deconstruct.  If you undertake a deconstruction of a genre, always be aware of that slippery slope and be ready to compensate for it.

Reconstruction, though seen by some as an opposite of deconstruction, actually walks hand-in-hand with it.  While deconstruction is breaking the fantastical by placing it in reality to attempt to analyze it, reconstruction is taking that broken trope, accepting the valid analysis the deconstruction gives, and reworks the original trope/genre into something resembling its original form but incorporating improvements gleaned from the deconstruction.  It’s the classic process of taking apart something to learn how to rebuild it in a better state, something that works as well for writing as any science.

This doesn’t mean that every deconstruction must be followed by a reconstruction.  If you simply want to break down and analyze a trope or genre in your work, feel free to do so.  However, the opposite is not true (obviously!).  To rebuild something, you must first break it!  Though it’s rare, I have read a piece or two that seems to want to start at the reconstruction phase, as if relying on previous popular culture deconstructions to speak for them.  The problem is that this doesn’t really work.

Why?  Well, the simplest way to put it is that deconstruction, like any creative works, incorporates the creator’s point of view and emotions into it.  Yes, the genre you may be trying to reconstruct has already been popularly deconstructed, but that doesn’t incorporate your thoughts and opinions on it.  You may decide, influenced by your own feelings on it, take the reconstruction to places that the original deconstructions don’t address, leading to confusion and a sense of disconnection.  You highlight what is to be reconstructed in the process of the deconstruction, so the only way to get it truly correct is to do the job yourself, whether in one volume or over a series of books!

So, fellow feasters of literature, what do you think about deconstruction and reconstruction?  If you have any tips, tricks, comments, or questions, leave them in the comments below!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

3 comments

  1. Even a little deconstruction/reconstruction can go along way. Without it, a piece can feel like a formula–I don’t enjoy that as much. I want to see new energy or life brought into a genre without it devolving into parody.

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