Panera Again, Fourth of July, 2007

Happy Independence Day, everybody.

I’m sitting in my Panera again, wondering what it is I should write about. I hope that this won’t end up being just another rambling post that won’t actually go anywhere, but if it does I won’t take it down. People deserve to see writers at their worst as well as at their best, and I don’t quite think I’ve managed either in this blog yet.

Finished up Akira today, and I’m just pages away from two more. This’ll give me four reviews to post over the coming week. It’ll be fun, I think.

I’ve been writing more, too. I haven’t wrestled any games off the internet and into my computer, yet, and so I have little to do but. I’ve been starting a whole lot, lately, and not finishing very much. My 7th grade English teacher would be rolling in his grave right now–he always told me that you have to start what you finish. He was a good man, but I can’t agree with him here.

Leax was writing about characters in Grace is Where I Live, and the process of writing fiction. He talks about how, before he could fully write fiction, he had to understand what it was. Fiction is intrinsically different than any other form or writing. With poetry, there is a demand for truth to be in the words, or at least some sort of significance. All the great poetry follows this pattern, it seems to me, and most of the greats like Wordsworth and Frost have described it as such: “Poetry is truth filtered through emotion,” or “Poetry is the meeting of Humanity and Truth.” And essay has a certain purpose surrounding it: when you write an essay, you know what you want to accomplish, or it turns out to be a bad essay–meandering all over the place with no point whatsoever. Even journals and memoirs are meant to record some sort of personal feelings on a subject or event.

Fiction seems more whimsical to me. It is easy to look at a poem and say “the poet thinks this” or “the poet is saying that.”

Not so with fiction. I think it is because of characters. In a work of fiction, it is not only the author who is writing. All the people the author is writing about have their own say in the story, and the writer is just as controlled by the narrative as the narrative is controlled by the writer. This means that you can’t just sit down and write and say “I’ll write a novel about how unfair capital punishment is.” What if one of your characters disagrees with you–you must either destroy the character for the sake of your message, or destroy yourself for the sake of a person who exists only in your mind. I think Flannery O’Connor says it better than me:

“It is a good deal easier for most people to state an abstract idea than to describe and thus recreate some object they actually see. But the world of the fiction writer is full of matter, and this is what the beginning fiction writers are loath to create. They are concerned primarily with unfleshed ideas and emotions. They are apt to be reformers and to want to write because they are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They are conscious of problems, not people.”

and later…

“When you write fiction you are speaking with character and action, not about character and action.”

Leax puts his two cents in, as well:

“The possibility of writing fiction opened to me when I finally understood that patterns of meaning are not shaped by the conscious intent of the writer; they emerge naturally from the freely chosen actions of the characters… The story itself is its meaning. A writer’s task is first to tell it and second to trust it…. To write fiction I had to sacrifice that drive for self-knowledge appropriate to me as a poet and seek instead to know, to love and to honor my characters and the world in which they lived.”

This is what I’m doing: I have characters, and I’m beginning to get to know them before I begin a significant work. I throw Sera Bevens, my protagonist, into a western world, or perhaps next to a stranger on an airplane, just to see how she will act. I wish to know her, like I’d know a dear friend, and I wish to be able to tell her story like she’d like me to tell it. This is the challenge of the fiction author–learning to sacrifice self for story.

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1 Comment

  1. chughes said,

    July 5, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    i like this entry. Characters can make or break a story.
    My characters are always based on something or someone real, the observed smile, and overheard line of conversation, a woman’s shoe, the gait of a boy with legs too long for his body, and i build on that. Even for the shorts i post on my web-log here. i simply record what those little bits uncover.

    ~christine


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