Monday, January 3, 2011

Knowing Character Vs. Knowing About Character

Recently it occurred to me that I might need to simplify things, as far as the writing goes. Writing advice is a good thing to hear, from time to time, because it gives you fresh ways of approaching your work. But ultimately, writing is not quite that methodical, at least not for me. I can't learn how to do it better in the same way that I can learn a language or how to complete a math problem. There isn't a formula. There's what I see and how I talk about it, and a lot of that is inexplicable.

Why do the words come out one way with one story and another way with another story? I have no idea. Why do little pieces of myself work their way into my work without my knowing? I don't know. Do I need to know? Probably not.

Anyway. For me, the first task of this new year is to pare down all the tidbits of advice floating around in my head in the hope of rediscovering The Basics: me, the word document, and the characters.

The other day I listened to a recording of Marilynne Robinson speaking at DePaul University, a talk titled "My Faith and My Fiction." (It's on iTunesU if you want to hear it! It's fascinating.) And I thought "AHA! Here is someone who is talking about writing in a way that is currently helpful to me. Perhaps I should transcribe part of it and put it on the blog!"

(No, this is not, word for word, what I thought. I rarely say AHA to myself. Or "perhaps.")

Anyway, enjoy:

"For me at least writing consists largely of exploring intuition. The character is really the sense of a character, embodied, attired, and given voice as he or she seems to require. Where does this creature come from? From watching, I suppose, from reading emotional significance in gestures and inflections as we all do all the time. These moments of intuitive recognition float free from their particular occasions and recombine themselves into nonexistent people the writer, and if all goes well, the reader, feel they know.

There is a great difference in fiction and in life between knowing someone and knowing about someone. When a writer knows about his character he is writing for plot. When he knows his character he is writing to explore, to feel reality on a set of nerves somehow not quite his own."

And later on...

"It was then that I had the sense of this, that I knew this man. ...I didn't have trouble sustaining the voice because I felt as if I knew him so well. It seemed more as if I simply had to pay attention to him than that I had to do anything else. I liked him; I enjoyed his company. Who knows where he came from?"

Cool, right? The last time I really knew a character was when I sat down to write the first draft of Divergent. Maybe one of the reasons I've been having trouble with the end of D2 is that I've lost touch with her.

Just some thoughts I'm having.

Anyone else have some writing resolutions?


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