Writing Around the Blogosphere
Andrea is currently battling a computer virus (boo!) so I thought I would step in and offer some interesting tidbits from articles I’ve found around the blogosphere.
I am, I suppose, a bit of a loner among writers. I belong to no critique groups, I write alone, and haven’t joined RWA, so I don’t know how other writers feel about the secret lives of their fictional characters. I’ve read lots of articles on creating ‘backstory’ for characters, but that’s such a cold and technical term for how characters are born and live and begin to breathe.
When I ‘create’ a fictional character, I assume they have the kind of rich depth in their past, their thoughts, their innermost needs, that every human being has, no matter how shallow they seem. I may not know about it yet, but they have a past that explains who they are and why they’re like that. While I like to believe I create these for my characters, they do sometimes surprise me.
They keep secrets, you see. They’ve done things they’re ashamed of, and they don’t want to tell me. Like any other person, I have to get to know them first, and they have to trust me before they’ll tell me anything. You would think I would have some access to this privileged information, but no, I must tease and coax the truth out of them.
Dialogue is at its best when it reveals something the reader doesn’t know about the characters involved – like those intimate conversation we’re not supposed to hear but love to listen to anyway. I’m not suggesting every writer go out and immediately start trying to eavesdrop on private conversations – for one thing, you’ll probably get caught – but it’s to your advantage to pay attention to what you hear whenever you’re around other people. Even in public places people forget they can be overheard. Collect the most interesting things that you hear; learn from them, let them fire your imagination, and use them to inspire and craft your dialogue to invoke the same feelings.
Sometimes even the smallest and seemingly insignificant fragment of conversation can provide you with enormous inspiration. A few years back I was sitting in a restaurant booth behind an older couple who weren’t speaking to each other at all. I got the impression they’d just had a bad argument before coming into the place. I was finishing up my salad when the woman abruptly said, “It’s high time we put an end to this.” Her companion muttered “uh-huh” and then asked the waitress for the check. They left without exchanging another word.
At some point somebody’s going to have something to say about something you’ve written, and you might not like it.
Your first reaction could be any one of these:
“Why is everyone smarter than me?” or “That’s it, I’m quitting,” or even… “I’m gonna find out where you live and head over to deliver a boot full of whoop-ass.”
Criticism comes with the territory when you put your work out there for people to read, so you’d better figure out ways to handle it confidently so that it doesn’t send you into a spiral of hurt or anger.
We are constantly bombarded with health messages these days, with many offering confusing, complicated, or contradictory advice. There are so many messages with so many misunderstandings that, in the end, they have become like car alarms going off in the parking lot. They are heard now as a noisy nuisance.
Well, here is a health alert we can all understand. Researchers at the University of Sussex have determined that the very best way to relieve stress, both physical and mental, is to read a book. Got your attention?
OK, let me say this once and get it off my chest and never mention it again. I have had it with writers who talk about how painful and harrowing and exhausting and almost impossible it is for them to put words on paper and how they pace a hole in the carpet, anguish writ large on their marshmallow faces, and feel lucky to have written an entire sentence or two by the end of the day.
The biggest whiners are the writers who get prizes and fellowships for writing stuff that’s painful to read, and so they accumulate long résumés and few readers and wind up teaching in universities where they inflict their gloomy pretensions on the young. Writers who write for a living don’t complain about the difficulty of it. It does nothing for the reader to know you went through 14 drafts of a book, so why mention it?
This, and many other similar experiences, has made me think about the whole issue of the novelist’s freedom — and responsibility. The conclusion that I am increasingly drawn to is that the world of fiction and the world of real flesh-and-blood people are not quite as separate as one might imagine. Writing is a moral act: What you write has a real effect on others, often to a rather surprising extent.
Stories have an effect in this world. They are part of our moral conversation as a society. They weigh in; they change the world because they become part of our cultural history. There never was an Anna Karenina or a Madame Bovary, even if there might have been models, but what happened to these characters has become part of the historical experience of women.
It can be very inhibiting for an author if he or she knows that what happens in fiction is going to be taken so seriously.
Thanks for visiting!
Now get writing.