Saturday, June 09, 2007

Introspection, Part 2


You may not want to read this.

That's because I want to post about Introspection now not as a tool, a skill in the craft of Writing, but as a necessary part of the Writer's character. Why, not how.

I said in my last post that we all need to know, as writers, what we are capable of. Some of us are quite capable of finishing a sentence with a preposition, or starting a sentence with a conjunction, or writing sentence fragments. But others aren't. Pubbers, in particular, when they sit down to write something (for a lark, or just slumming), fight with the Watcher at The Gate about everything.

We are capable, for instance, of deluding ourselves into thinking we are the next J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown, except better. Nevermind that the chances of a virgin writer being published nowadays is about the same as being struck by lightning while being eaten by a great White Shark right after winning the Lottery...

This same lust (why not call it what it is?) drives us to think better of the written record of the outpourings of our souls than we ought, and to resent Pubbers, or other writers, attempting to change it. We are like Pilate, who famously said, 'What I have written, I have written,' when the Sanhedrin tried to edit him. Come to think of it, he was right, too.

On the other hand, we (perversely) think nothing of suggesting any number of perfectly obvious changes that should be made to writing shared with us by our fellow writers.

But the green-eyed demon really begins to claw its way out of our chest when we see, or hear of, writers we know getting published, receiving an Award, or Lord defend us, seducing an Agent: we are more than capable of congratulating them to their face while fantasizing about casting them as the villain in our next novel. And we're convincing; after all, we make up stuff all the time, that's what we do...

Sometimes we begin to write in order to become famous, or garner applause, or Awards, or to get Pubbed. We begin to stray from writing what we want to write into writing what we think readers want to read, or worse, what Agents and Editors want to read.

Which leads us back to the how again.

All of these feelings and thoughts are usable. You can place them into the mind and heart of your antagonist, as I mentioned last post. Or you can place them into the mind and heart of your protagonist.

The protag must have a 'Fatal Flaw' after all. Why not give him a couple - of yours? Or a couple from people you know well? This is 'writing what you know' I suppose: If you can describe your own conflicted feelings about something, take those feelings, nurture them well in the compost of your own mind, grow, prune, and water them. And then make your protag conflicted about something, anything, make him want it but feel guilty about that desire, make him hate it (her?) but desire it with all his being. Make him want to do the right thing but fear the consequences more than Death itself.

The antagonist need not provide all, just the primary, conflict: and conflict is the throbbing heart and weeping soul of a thumping good Story.

Of course this is the literary equivalent of streaking. Would you take off all your clothes and run through a public place, say a Mall at lunchtime on the day after Thanksgiving? If you do the kind of introspection I'm writing about, and then use it in a Story, that's what you're doing, except it's your emotions and thoughts on display, not your Adam or Eve costume.

This why some people never become writers. It's also, incidentally, why some people become Pubbers: so they can indulge in literary emotional voyeurism.

So all Writers are emotional exhibitionists to a greater or lesser extent.

How deep are you willing to dive into yourself? What are you willing to dredge up into the blistering heat of public scrutiny? What will your loved ones say? Can you really write about that??? Would it be worse if you did, if you dug up the most painful, pitiful thing about yourself, sweated blood and wrote it into your character - and no one gave a crap?

Remember, I did say you might not want to read this.


robeiae said...

But Zonk, I write non-fiction...

Actually, I think your points are good ones, though more germane when the the subject matter of the story is present-day reality, no?

And I scare myself all the time.


Jennifer said...

Interesting... Likely why I don't ever and don't much intend to write novels or personal essays. I'll stick to my much safer non-fiction thanks.

gdtownshende said...

Remember the post where I talked about receiving that handwritten note from George Scithers? The story I sent to him had to do with my divorce, and it revealed some, but not all, of the emotions and anger I felt about what happened.

He wrote, and I quote, "Good. Just not irresistible." I've been learning since then exactly what that means, and I think I'm starting to understand what I have to do to make whatever I write IRRESISTIBLE.

One thing I've been telling myself for years now, is that if I should get something published very soon, while it would look like the fairy-tale "over-night success", the fact is it would be far, far, far from being that at all. I've been writing and reading about writing and learning about writing for 30 years now. That's hardly an over-night endeavor, eh? :P LOL

Virginia Lee said...

I'm willing to dive into myself. I began the process as a performer and it took me into writing. I hope to continue it always. People are terrified to know themselves. That is why writers, and other artists, are so necessary. We take them places in themselves they cannot reach otherwise. We do the work. I just wish more of us got paid better for it!

Zonk said...

Wow, you leave a site alone for a day and look what happens...:D

Well, feelings are universal and do you scare yourself if you write non-fiction? Oh, wait, you're probably writing about politics, I forgot, sorry...:p

Awwwwww, come on, dive in!

Bro, if you don't get Pubbed, it won't be for lack of trying to learn the craft, that's for's hoping you get irate e-mails from fans complaining that they had to stay up all night to finish your novel :D

Good for you :D Amen to your last thought, lol.