Wednesday, December 05, 2007



A great thing for a writer to have. It's interesting to me (yes, I know my own perversity) that the one thing that prevents most people from becoming writers may be an indispensable part of the Writing Process for those who decorate empty pages with the outpouring of their souls.

Now while it's true that many writers have conquered their fears, for some authors the empty page is the battleground upon which they slay their inner demons, dragons, ogres or wargs (this list is descriptive, not exhaustive: I would hate to be accused of partiality towards any class, or group, or Race, of monsters).

Whether this is because in doing so they hope that the confrontation may help them grok themselves, or grok the fear, or prevent what they are afraid of from coming to pass (a case of fiction preventing fruition...), or simply to defang the serpent, or whether they actually enjoy being afraid, is irrelevant to me. I leave that to another group that is a Half Bubble Off Plumb, the Psychologists. On second thought make that a Full Bubble.

Writers have learned, God defend us, to feed on Fear: the amount of adrenalin is the same whether the person is inhibited or galvanized by it. Every danger presents an opportunity, and blessed is the Writer who can write with the smell of Fear all over the page, bleeding unchecked out of every wounded noun and verb. If the writing keeps you up at night, it will have the same effect on the reader.

In this way we are similar to other adrenalin junkies, the half-pipe skaters and riders, deep-sea divers, parachutists, and inner-city subway commuters. The exhilaration that comes through fear is the fuel for our endeavor - and the attention and interest of the reader. Which do you think is harder: to juggle five balls or three flaming clubs? On a scale of one to ten, juggling three clubs (lit or otherwise) is maybe a four: juggling five balls is an eleven, perhaps a twelve. Try it and see. Now ask yourself, which would you rather watch? Evel Knievel knew that people watched in fascination knowing he might crash, even die. When he did in fact, recently pass away, he died in bed, and caused only a ripple in the news ocean.

Readers know instinctively when a Writer is racing the crumbling cliff's edge. It creates a shared experience of the Fear between Writer and reader, a telepathic empathy, a bond between two intimate strangers.

How and why does this work?

I believe (you are about to be inflicted with an Opinion) this is because of the sheer wonderful intense concentration that fear induces.

Norm Evans, Right Tackle for the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins, when asked about how well the offensive line blocked for Fullback Larry Csonka, confessed that he did so out of sheer terror:
"Larry heads for where the hole is supposed to be. If I'm in the hole, he'll hit me in the back and move both me and the defensive player out of the hole, or he'll run over both of us. I've been hit by Larry in the back, and I never want to have it happen again."

Many athletes and actors understand this, and talk about the jitters that affect them - until they start the game, or play, or scene. The conversion of Fear into concentration is a deadly weapon in the hands of a good Writer. Remembered details stand out crisply in the mind's eye, skin, ears and nasal passages, and pour themselves unaided onto the empty page.

Tom Morrisey told me of an accident he had while rock climbing (another HBOP hobby... Tom also does underwater spelunking, good for TWO Bubbles Off Plumb). He reached for a handhold, slipped, fell over backwards, head down, for about twenty feet, where his rope caught him. As he fell, everything slowed down, and he clearly saw, in the distance, a withered tree with a tombstone standing next to it. Tom even had time to reflect on how ironic a picture this was to a falling climber. Secured by his fellow climber, it took both of them ten minutes to find the tree again.

I wrote in an earlier post of the usefulness of observation to the Writer, and of re-training our dulled senses to record sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, and Fear helps us to concentrate, sharpens the intimate details that can transform a dull piece into a magical telepathic conduit of the Writer's passions, fears, loves, and hates.

So go off and sky dive, or swim with sharks, tell jokes on stage, or more frightening still, delve into the dusky innermost recesses of your own secret Fears, and translate it to the page.

Your Readers will sit up and take notice.

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