December 19th, 2008

Carrie Now

Fear of Writing Self

So, this week we've been talking about writing and fear.

I was thinking (always dangerous) about how hard it is for us sometimes to put ourselves on the page.


I always have the problem that everyone in my family thinks that EVERYTHING I write is somehow autobiographical. This makes life difficult when you're writing about a stalker.

And I always throw up my hands and insist: No! It is not autobiographical! I have never been stalked by pixies!

However, I just realized this is basically a lie.
No, Tinkerbell has not come after me.

The reasons this is a bit of a lie are these:

1. Even the way I structure my sentences reveals something about who I am.
I bet this is true for you, too.

You know you can tell that there's an essential difference between one of my goofy sentences
                  She thinks this man might be the one, you know, the big enchilada, her soul’s mate, her life’s light, and stuff.

and one of M.T. Anderson's sentences  
                   I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.

and one of Meg Cabot's sentences
                    So I was sitting here, innocently eating my falafel with tahini, when Ling Su sat down across from me, and went, “Mia. How are you?” with her eyes all big and sympathetic.

Once you realize this, once you realize how much of you is revealed in just your sentence structure, writing can be a little bit scary. It's easy to be afraid of revealing things about yourself. It's so easy.

In an interview with Dawn Simonds Ramirez, novelist Maeve Benchley said, "I write as I speak and it's very quick and breathless. And it worked. I thought it would only work  in Ireland, but it works everywhere. You know when people put on an accent, it's annoying. When someone speaks like themselves, it's much nicer and you want to be friends with them. That's what makes it good."  (340)

So a lot of us reveal who we are by how we speak and how we construct our sentenceswhen we write. It's such a basic level and such a subconscious thing for so many of us and it's scary. Putting yourself out there to your readers (and reviewers) is scary.

And sometimes the image you want to put out there is this:
Oh, aren't we lovely?

When you're really all about this: 

Oh, aren't we about to kill you? Note: the fangs are the instruments of death

Or vice versa,obviously.

2. When we write we reveal ourselves by creating a world view. I know! I know a lot of people would disagree with me, but it's true. The details we use and how we show them are important.

We might show the world as something easily chronicled and explained, like in a lawyer's affadavit or a newspaper article:
                   Mr. Jones stood before the planning board and asked for a variance on the set back regulations.

We might show the world as something romantic and brave;
                   Mr. Jones stood in front of the seven men deliberately making eye contact with each. The planning board packet shook in his hands.
                   "What I'm asking the board for is the ability to expand the hospital, to save lives, to build an emergency room that will meet the needs of the community."

So, just how we present things shows a little bit about how we think of the world, or at least how we think of the world in this novel or poem or story.

"It's not only description that implies a view of the world. So does the choice of story events and the way they play themselves out in your work," writes Nancy Kress. "The events you choose to include in your storyform an overall pattern that impluies a worldview. If you know what worldview you're actually creating, it can help you choose events that support it, descriptions with telling details and evocative tone, and characters who bear out your beliefs.All thisgives your fiction a wholeness, a consistency..." (116-117)

The original version of my book TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (ex) BOYFRIEND ended with Belle being comforted by Dylan, her former boyfriend. The point of that scene was that it showed how close they still were, how love can be comforting and good and strong even when all your beliefs about that person aren't quite right.

My editor changed it and the final scene became Belle and Tom (her new boyfriend) at a dance. That implies another world view.

But both scenes show a lot about me and what I think.

And that's really scary.

But embracing that fear is part of what we do as writers. We have to. That's how we make the best stories we can: We recognize the illusion of self and others, we embrace the human and the emotion of our stories and ourselves. We soldier on.

We might want to tie up our world views and our selves and not be invested in our stories, but it is so much better for our stories and our readers if we don't.

Some things just aren't meant to be restrained or hidden. Some things are meant to be free.

Kress. Nancy. "What your Story Says" The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, ed. Meg Leader. Cincinatti: Writer's Digest Books. 2002 (114-120)

Ramierez, Dawn Simonds. "Seven Questions with Maeve Binchy"   The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, ed. Meg Leader. Cincinatti: Writer's Digest Books. 2002 (388-340)

Excerpts are from:

Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Girl Hero, by me.