Sunday, June 10, 2012

Whadda ya know?

I like old things, which is good, since I am one (an old thing) and since I have to be around me all the time, I find it helpful to like me. I also like the me I could have been, or should have been, or hope to be (I’m still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up). Of course most of us, maybe all of us, have this in common: we aren’t the person we think we are or wish we were or hope to be. I think that is what motivates fiction writers: we want to create the world as we wish it to be.

When we create characters, and then put them in places and situations where they display themselves, we are making them do and be what our dreams and nightmares tell us we might have been or could be (at least in our imaginations). None of this is strikingly original thinking, I know, nor is it satisfying writing. It is simply my own view of why I write, I suppose. "Write what you know," we are told early on, and it is very true: we can create a world, or a scene or a situation, but the characters don’t come alive unless we have some model, some image to follow. So we look into ourselves.

To develop as a writer it’s important to be able to see "in the round;" see beyond the comfortable known responses to different situations. That comes with time (and age) and growth, but requires one essential characteristic: empathy. If you cannot put yourself in another’s place, cannot see another’s point of view, you cannot write a rounded, fully dimensioned character. Stories will be flat, people and events contrived.

It is easy to write the same story over and over, just changing locales or shading events. It is called "formula writing," and if the formula is a good one, the writer achieves a degree of success. Readers often stay with a writer because they know what will happen, they know and like the characters, they even begin to believe the characters are real. They keep coming back like children coming home. They don’t even have to ask where the cookies are or for permission to raid the icebox. For the writer, though, a formula is restrictive and unrewarding. Every new story, for me, is a journey of exploration and discovery. It is what keeps me looking forward.

It is more than writing what I know.

No comments:

Post a Comment