Thursday, December 4, 2014

It Takes Guts to Write from the Gut

Fiction: literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people.

Writing fiction is a brave act. Even when the characters, settings and circumstances are "imaginary", they come from a place that is close to the writer. Any genre of fiction, including magical realism, science-fiction, dystopian, fantasy, etc. have elements that come from the writer’s life, even if the writer doesn’t realize it at the time. I have yet to meet a writer who does not pour their reality into their fiction.

The obvious is through characters. Characters can embody qualities of people we know and that  is what gives them layers. It makes them likable, relatable, hated, admired and memorable to readers. We don’t always know we are infusing characters with personalities, hopes, dreams and fears of those we know, or of our own. Because it is what we know, it comes out naturally. We make conscious decisions to allow them to be subtle or overt. From names to  physical attributes, our characters are extensions of who we are and who we know.

Same is true for setting. When I write a story it is almost always based on places I’ve been. From states to interiors of buildings, I need to have a visual, something that makes that place real. Stories tend to come to me set in cities I’ve been to, or lived in. In the rare occasion where the city is ambiguous, or not relevant to the story, the scenes take place inside places I’ve been, like schools I attended, but they are redesigned to fit the story. One thing I learned to do in graduate school is to build a blueprint of where scenes take place. Some writers draw out the spaces in their stories. As you know from my 11/18/14 post, I typically don’t draw in conjunction with my writing. However, in one of the lectures I attended we were given a writing exercise where we had to draw out the room where a scene took place. I was having trouble with a particular scene so I did a quick sketch of the room in which the scene played out. I was surprised at how helpful it was.  Taking the time to study the space where my characters were helped me learn more about them. I saw the entire room, and in doing so, parts of the scene unfolded, and I was able to write it out more vividly. In doing so I felt more connected to all the characters, and felt that I better understood the story.

When I write, I make a mental map in my head and refer to it as the story unfolds. If there is an interior space, I include furniture and knick-knacks. I think of them as props because they can hold a purpose in the story, just as they can in plays or movies. If there is an outdoor space I have fun deciding the weather, the smells, and the sounds. Sometimes I challenge myself to consider what it would look like if I crank up the temperature, make the space larger, smaller or more or less public. Doing so I draw on how those things would affect me if I was standing in that space, and it helps me explore how my characters respond to the space around them.

These are some of the more obvious ways that I write what I know. To me, these are the easier ways. The harder ways are when I get down to the relationships in my stories. When I ask myself why characters make the choices they do; why they love how they love; why they react as they do. These answers are much harder to define. That is when my subconscious goes to places deep within me and pulls out my unspoken fears and burdens, the biases I am scared to admit to, and the darker parts of myself that I can’t explain. It is where tenderness lurks that I often squelch in the name of survival. Is the place where my dreams lay dormant, waiting for a chance to come into focus. It is a place that I can’t tap into easily, save for my writing.

The novel that I am currently revising deals with mixed martial arts. There are a lot of fight scenes, blood, broken bones, and violence. Am I an MMA fighter? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I wasn’t even a fan when I started it two years ago. I knew close to nothing about the sport. It came to me and I went with it. It’s not until a recent conversation I had with a classmate that it dawned on me that it didn’t just come to me as I originally believed. What I was really doing was writing out my pain.

I started that story less than six months after the worse event of my life. I was feeling pain that I had no idea how to deal with. It was intense, deep, maddening at times and I was at a loss for expressing it. I had no words for the pain of losing my best friend. There was nothing I could do to ease the torment of facing my future void of everything I thought it would hold. But the mind is a mysterious phenomenon. It took over and began to heal in a way that it knew I could handle. I dealt with my internal pain by writing about physical pain. I didn’t have the words to deal with the kind of pain I was feeling inside. It was so new, so foreign and so raw that I had no clue how to wrap my head around it so that I could start healing. But, I knew how to deal with physical pain. Without realizing it, I drew on that and the fight scenes are some of the most intense and vivid scenes in the manuscript. They are filled with tons of detail and movement. They are me in a different form.

Writing fiction does not alleviate the burden of truth. It does not mean that the writer can be completely unengaged because the story is made up. Elements of the writer's truths seep into the various facets of the story in different ways. Writers can’t escape that. At the end of the day, we write what we know, what we've learned through living. Our words reflect how we interact with the world, even when we make up the world and add magical creatures or unexplored galaxies. We write for so many personal reasons that we can't do so honestly without exposing our inner selves. We are connected to what we write and that is a scary thing. Putting our writing into the world is a frightening. I liken it to sending your baby off on their own for the first time. You know it must happen and you think you’re prepared, but it terrifies you to the core. But, you don’t clip your baby’s wings to pacify your fear. You find a way to face it, you find the courage to let that baby forge their own way in the world. That is how it is for writers of fiction. So, the next time you write a review, or talk about a book you loved or hated, think about how the writer allowed you to see a bit of her soul, and try to honor her bravery.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Contact Me


Email *

Message *