Fiction is the ship we build to navigate the waters of both our real and imagined lives. How deep we dive into those worlds depends on the measure of confidence we have that we will return in one piece.
Whatever it is that drives us to work on a particular story I believe there is a deeper reason we are drawn to writing it. I believe it’s a challenge, if you will, to expose the point of our internal compass, the one that points to a place we know we have to go.
And sometimes the hardest thing is to give in to the story that will take us there. The story so full of pain that unless we let it go we might never get there.
James Baldwin is a writer who impressed me when I was young because I had never experienced such a strong voice in an author. He taught me writers are not ever invisible in their writing.
“You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.”
You cannot describe anything without betraying everything. Right there, Baldwin gives you permission to be visible, to be transparent, to be powerful.
Writers are urged to write by what hurts. Pain is where conflict is born and it would be hard to write conflict if our lives were completely lacking in it. Our characters live at least some of what we lived, cry over some of the same things we’ve cried over and suffer some of the same things we’ve suffered. (No conflict, no story)
We craft fiction to be bigger than life, but at its core there are always what I like to call some of life’s ‘dents’ that influence where the story begins. These ‘dents’ are incidents, both personal and observed that touch us more than just in passing.
John Irving’s novels have many personal themes.
Irving was seduced at ten by an older woman and that event repeats itself in his works. (World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire)
Irving was thirty-nine before he knew anything about his real father, a theme that became the driving force of his 11th novel, “Until I Find You.”
And those experiences make John Irving’s work so much easier to immerse in. He builds the worlds, decorates them, and makes them accessible and comfortable to settle in and once inside, readers can let the story wash over them with profound effect.
And of course what urges us to write also urges us not to write.
The desire to protect our secrets is often stronger than the obvious powerful literary value of telling the story when it resembles our real life too closely. There are people to protect who may be upset or in extreme circumstances may take legal action.
So many of us choose to write stories that only hint at what we actually lived, hint at the people who attempted to destroy us, hint at the circumstances where we barely escaped with our lives, physically or emotionally or both.
This may be good enough or it may not.
When we as writers are brave and take what nearly defeated us and give it back to the world, show the world how we beat it and how we triumphed through a fictional character, through romance, fantasy, science fiction, whatever the genre, we are giving the rest of the world a serious gift.
How we craft the story is what makes a good writer. We can say a lot with a little. All it takes is writing the story with something true, just one thing deeply connective and revealing; all the rest can be made up.
A writer who came from journalism and wrote some of the most important novels of the last century is García Márquez. He said this in an interview published in the Paris Review:
In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.
A novelist can do anything…as long as he makes people believe.
This is a lifeline to both the writer and the reader. It is a chance to set the right course and redesign the map on a literary dimension and maybe on a literal dimension. Writing can do this.
Writing can make things right.
I say don’t be afraid, don’t try to be invisible, let your themes call out their urgent signals and allow readers to visit the worlds where monsters are slain, bad guys get their dues, and love wins over pain.
We as writers have a unique power – our imagination has a keyboard.
The only obstacle to producing powerful fiction, fiction that can actually make a difference is the fear, the shame, and maybe the anger we have towards the topics that make up deeply personal encounters, encounters that could be great stories.
Of course everything we write has personal experience in it, all writers write from something encountered during their life. What I am saying is face those personal themes and see how important they can be not only to you but also to others.
Keep writing, never quit.
Christina for PenPaperWrite
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