(picture taken, coincidentally, from gethurt.com)
I believe most of us react first and then try to explain later why we did what we did, both to ourselves and possibly to others. We’re instinctual creatures. At least I am. I’ll try and resist the urge to speak for everyone.
For me, this is absolutely true in my writing.
When I’m “thinking” about what fiction to write, I don’t sit down and say, “So I want to focus my audience’s attention towards poverty in the U.S. I need to create a story that will accomplish that.” Instead I think of what characters I’d like to animate, settings I would paint around them and situations I think would be original and rewarding to write... and hopefully to read. I often see opportunities within the story to say something I consider important, but that is coincidence… or serendipity.
When I’m “thinking” about a poem to write, I normally don’t start by thinking of a structure, meter or form I want to use. I usually start with an emotion or visual image, write the first line and then build from there, letting that first line inspire the rest of it. I only hope to bring it to some interesting, inspiring or maybe even profound conclusion that will work as a sort of catalyst for emotion or thought in the reader. It always baffled me in school when we would try to deduce what the author meant in her poetry. Good luck with that. If I’m any indication, the author herself probably didn’t know what she meant.
My writing is a scavenger hunt through the free-association junk pile that is my brain.
Same with this blog and this post as a matter of fact.
Witness: I was driving to work this morning, listening to an audio book and thinking about my responsibility as a writer. My catalyst was Stephanie Meyer’s novel The Host. The Host was released in 2008, three years after the Twilight franchise kicked off. Unlike Twilight, this one is for adults rather than young adults, whatever the hell that means.
It’s a good story overall - although some call it slow - and to me has that shiny sparkle of a first novel rather than a third or fourth. It felt more raw, less polished and less commercial.
The problem I have with the book is a recurring and maddening theme I read a lot in romantic tales. The female in the story - in this case the narrator - is horribly physically abused by a man. Even more confusing to me is that women novelists seem more prone to include this in their work.
With this novel, Stephanie has her main character suffer brutal attacks from two men. As you may have already guessed, she eventually she falls in love with both and they sort of live happily ever. Another character actually tries to kill her and they become friends and play soccer together. The writer justifies this within the story, of course, and does a fairly decent job of it. But it doesn’t change what has happened.
This makes me angry and confused. I find myself mentally asking Stephanie why she would put this out there for any of her gazillion girl fans to read. In my mind she is basically telling them that if they hold out long enough, the guy who is beating the crap out of them might have a change of heart and become all gentle and caring and protective of the skin he was bruising just days earlier. Or maybe a guy reads it and he decides that girls like that kind of treatment and considers giving in to his more violent tendencies.
As with my own writing, I don’t think she thought about it. I think she started with a situation, populated it with characters that excited her and just started creating. She says on her web page that the idea for Twilight came from a dream (which may be where all fiction is conceived.)
And what if today I got her on the phone and asked her why she did it? If she was defending the story, in that writer’s crouch to which we have all resorted, I think the reasons she would give me would be the coherent, logical and thoughtful self-assessments she entertained long after her muse had sang its last notes and gone back into hibernation. That’s what we do.
That's what I do.
I have written some pretty DeanKoontzy, StephenKingy stuff. My work often includes the darkest parts of the humanity. What’s my responsibility there? I can’t possibly think clearly enough to edit myself as I go. If I did try, what I wrote would be total crap anyway. I have to follow my muse, be possessed by the demon and feel that otherworldly excitement of virtually channeling a story out of the ether and onto my computer screen.
I have to.
So how can I possibly be such a hypocrite and criticize what Stephanie has done in The Host?
I really can’t, not with any gusto anyway.
I guess my muse has no thoughtful conclusion for me on this post, no advice, no help really for the keepers of the pen. Except that we’re all largely slaves to our human condition, instincts, prejudices and failings. We are also blessed with our capacity for love, empathy, grace and sacrifice.
And isn’t that conflict what makes a great story?
Thanks for reading, off to write!