Does good writing depend on looking under a story’s hood?

You'd think writing was just about putting words on a page, in a coherent and potentially attractive and compelling order. And you'd be right. But as with any interest/specialty/art what have you thing that people focus their lives around, apparently there's a hell of a lot of technical jargon, too. Stuff I grew up just calling point of view, or narrator or even just an outline … there are so many permutations of these things, broken down into technical descriptions that, when people use them, tell me: Oh, you have an MFA, don't you.

It's not that I don't care. I just don't care enough. It's possible that if I looked under the hood more and had studied the nature of literature and done dozens of exercises to get a feel for tone, voice, style and so forth that I'd be much more successful at this whole business of writing fiction. But I just don't get into all the details like that. I like putting words on a page and trying to make them work. When I'm writing a story I tend to work out most of it in my head and then I sit down to write starting at the beginning. I keep writing and the story unfolds and sometimes it goes one way and sometimes it goes another, but then we get to what I was trying to say and then we wrap it up. This is probably incorrect somehow, but it's how I've always written. I don't outline (bad, bad!) and I don't chart progress (amateur!) and I've never had much use for looking at the skeleton of the story. It just stands on its own, or it doesn't.

In writing group tonight we have one participant who is clearly struggling with how to put her story together. She's got the basic concept, fairly well-realized characters, a sense of place and a turning point event. But she isn't sure how to layer the elements of the past and the elements of the present, and she keeps tripping over conceptualizing parts that I would think should be written first, so you know how to hang the rest of the body (if we're sticking with our skeleton metaphor). Instead, she's written some body parts and muscles and now doesn't know what even the face looks like. (I'll stop on that now.) Another member of the group (our token actual Real Published Writer) wrote up some grids that might help her with structure — there was a railroad tracks model, and even an asterisk with a key death at the center — and I just looked at them and thought I wouldn't even know where to begin with trying to set up a story of mine like that.

Different styles for different writers. I actually admire someone who can write one section of a book, then a whole different one, then sew them together. It's not that I've never done anything like that, but that's just now how my mind works. So I'm wishing her luck with her patchwork, as I try to walk a steady line on my old-novel revise.

UPDATE: John Scalzi's large tom-toms beat far louder than anything I can say, and it looks like there's been some ground given up on the Random House e-book grab/crappy contract deals for writers. He's got a lot to say here, including the fact that the new contract suggestions are far from ideal, too.