Friday, May 31, 2013

The lessons in the words

Another week-end is almost here, another opportunity to catch up on some reading and writing after the stress and exhaustion of the work week.  Sometimes I don't take the best advantage of those opportunities, and I need to rectify that.

Ironically, I found a little bit of inspiration in one of the words I posted yesterday.  "Patience" was among the labels I applied to that post, and I realized I needed to have more patience with myself.

I spent about an hour yesterday afternoon on the outline for the book I'm working on and made significant progress.  There's no deadline on this outline, and no limits either upper or lower on length.  I can put in as much or as little detail, scribble out what I don't like, change my mind whenever. 

And in fact I did change my mind regarding a particular plot element.  I realized I had resolved one character's internal conflict too quickly and too easily; he needed to remain conflicted much longer.  How could I sustain and, to a certain extent actually intensify that conflict in a believable way?

The answer was both easy and a bit unsettling.  The character's personal history provided the basis for the conflict to begin with, and rather than resolving it, events could be used to increase the emotional tension.  What was unsettling about this was that I realized I had projected my own personal issues onto this character.

In a way, that realization brought a bit of a chuckle.  I had done much the same thing with my other books in the sense that I had deliberately incorporated elements of my own personality and experience into my characters and plots.  This is the "write what you know" technique, and I'm sure all writers do it to some extent.  Carried to an uncomfortable extreme, it turns characters into Mary Sues and plots into autobiographies.  But even when we're writing about characters and events and situations and places that we have no personal experience of, we still reach into our own store of memories to create that which never existed.

The difference this time was that the projection was unintentional.  But it was also natural in keeping with the character I had created.  And it also had enormous resonance in my current personal situation.

I will, of course, now be much more aware of how I write this character, how I take him through his conflicts and how he resolves them.  There may be a temptation to think of this as life imitating art, but always I know where the words come from. They come from me, and my lessons are my own.

The character, of course, will walk away beyond the last page a better person  for having learned those lessons.  Whether I will or not remains to be seen.

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