Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Invention--the Mother of Astonishment

I haven't been writing very much lately--or reading. I've wanted to, but sometimes I feel like it's time to be a full-time mom instead. But I did manage to finally finish the last chapter and book of the Percy Jackson series today, and the last of Part I in "Characters and Viewpoint" just a moment ago. And both had me thinking...how did they do it?
Have you ever asked yourself that after reading a book? Have you ever looked down at the thing you're holding in your hands and thought, this is a work of art. A master-mind project that is woven together so perfectly I never saw it coming, and now I feel so...fulfilled. Like I just experienced what the character did. How did they do that?
I remember asking that in fifth grade, after reading a Nancy Drew book. And I wasn't thinking about how Nancy did it either. I was wondering about the author. Where did they come up with this idea? How did they fit all the pieces together? It was like watching one of my Dad's mechanical machines he worked on. It blew my mind.
I think that's why I went into English ultimately. It was such a powerful feeling of awe, I couldn't shake it off, not even when I was in my twenties, not even now. I wanted to know how the machine worked, and how it was created--pull it apart, analyze it, duplicate it.
I think I probably spent hours as a kid wondering which details and characters were conscious decisions, or did they just happen and greatness was magically there.
Today my brain started to go there again when I read what Card had to say about it in his book: "Most of your decisions will remain unconscious. But the ones you are aware of allow you to open up your story with more invention, more possibilities, more space, more people for your unconscious mind to play with... The stories that astonish us, the characters that live forever in our memories--those are the result of rich imagination, perceptive observation, rigorous interrogation, and careful decision-making. When it comes to storytelling, invention is the mother of astonishment, delight, and truth."
I know a character is alive to me when I start to dream about them. Percy Jackson has visited my dreams multiple times now, along with Harry Potter, and yes, even Edward the vampire :)
Authors are some of the most amazing mechanical artists I know.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Self-Therapy Through Writing Fiction

A friend once told me people could see a lot of herself in her writing. I nodded and said quite quickly, "Yes, it seems all my characters are me. Don't you feel the same way?" She said "no," they were new people she'd invented and they weren't like her at all. I said, "Oh," and that was the end of that, but still it kind of bothered me. I instantly thought, "Am I doing it wrong?" Since that time I've told myself, of course not. There's no one way to write, I know that. But still, I had to ask, are my ideas too shallow that they only extend to my own memories and experiences? Am I that self-centered? Am I not thinking outside the box?
Perhaps we were misunderstanding each other, perhaps not, but when I said my characters are me, what I meant was I could see myself in all of them. They are created deep inside of me. They share feelings I've felt, they come from how I've perceived people, and I've endowed them with characteristics I've noticed in the world around me.
My husband always says the faults we notice in others are actually the faults we ourselves have. That's how it is with fictional characters. And sometimes I don't even know it's about me, until months later when it strikes me, or my husband says, "That's so you."
Today I read in the book I'm reading, Characters & Viewpoints by Orson Scott Card, "...No less distorted is your memory of yourself--what you did, what you meant to do, what caused you to do things, what the results of your actions turned out to be. Yet, distorted or not, your memory of yourself is the clearest picture you will ever have of what a human being is and why people do what they do. You are the only person you will ever know from the inside, and so, inevitably, when your fiction shows other characters from the inside, you will reveal yourself."
"This will happen unconsciously, whether you plan it or not. Sometimes it will startle, even embarrass you when you look back on a story you've written and suddenly realize how much you have confessed without even meaning to."
I've experienced this again and again in my own writing. When I go back to read what I've written sometimes days or months later I suddenly see for the first time I've written about an experience as a teenager, or the love I feel for my children, or resentment or a grudge I've never forgotten. I didn't even think about it while writing it, but still it was there, and I felt those same feelings again and I put them on paper without even realizing it. I often think writing is like dreaming. It all comes out on the paper, without you even thinking about putting it there.
Sure, they're new people, doing new things, but there is a piece of me in them. Even the villain. I'm not perfect. I've yelled at my kids before. I've experienced anger and frustration, vanity, obsessions. Maybe not to the same degree my character is, but enough that it allows me to imagine what it would be like. Those same feelings are what allow us as readers to relate to the characters, even if they are chopping up people to bits.
This is probably one reason why we like to read too. We want to experience those same feelings again. Sweet romances full of bitter jealousy bring us back to the days when we were hauling Caboodles onto the bus, spiking our bangs and driving the junior high guys wild... (Ahem-ahem, what was I saying about revealing embarrassing memories through writing? Scary.) Watching movies isn't the same. It's watching someone else's story. When you read a book you become that person and you get to live out another life. It's the ultimate "virtual reality game."
[That was my plug for reading books. =) ]
Card says "The danger of delving into your own memory is that you've only lived one life. You're going to keep coming up with the same incidents and attitudes over and over again, without even realizing it...the way a child will keep picking at the same sore. You have to make a conscious effort to keep from remembering the same things in the same way."
Something I noticed a long time ago about myself, which could drive someone crazy (like my husband), is I'm always looking back. I find correlations in my life which could account for possible decisions I made later on, and it brings new light and meaning to those memories.
Cheap entertainment, psycho-analyzing yourself. Unless it makes you so utterly depressed you need medication and real therapy....
I love analyzing people and why they do things. But unconsciously we all use ourselves as a gauge to understand others. I use what I've learned in my own life, and that always changes as I grow and mature. How I perceive my memories changes with that. So, in that way, our own thoughts and memories actually have a deep well to draw from, because each memory has layers: how we viewed it at the time, how we saw it a bit later, and how we feel about it now--the good, the bad, the ugly.
You can also rewrite history. I can take some of those experiences I've had, put all the heartache, disappointment out there, and then have a different outcome. Or somehow come to peace with it, without it ever being even remotely the same situation or experience. Sometimes I discover through writing things about myself that I never consciously knew. It really is like going to a psychiatrist, but much cheaper.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Who You Are Is Who You're With

Mar 6, 2010 Saturday

One thing I love about writing, and reading for that matter, is learning about human nature. People are so extremely fascinating.
I read something from the book "Characters & Viewpoint" by Orson Scott Card, about how almost all of us have "one personality at work, another on the phone, another with the children, still another alone with our spouse... With each set of relationships, we have a different history, different in-jokes, different shared experiences. We act with different motives. We do different things... When relationships are interrupted or fade away, the self that belonged in that relationship stays the same. Getting together with old buddies you haven't seen since high school, you tend to become the same person you were when you all used to hang out together... It is one of the most startling and effective devices in fiction to take characters out of one setting and put them in another, where different facets of their personality come to the fore. The character himself may be surprised to realize who he becomes when circumstances change."
That is so true with relationships. I've mourned losses of friendships I was close to in the past, angry that life has to change. I always wondered why; why does it matter? I can make new friends. I can talk to anyone about screaming kids and good deals at the grocery store. Why do I need that particular friendship, and why do I miss it so much? I think Card hit the nail on the mark. It's because I'm missing myself. I'm missing who I was in that relationship. When they disappeared, so did that side of me.
I think that's one reason I love getting together with my siblings. It's like getting together with your old self again, saying "Hi, I missed you. Where have you been?" Next you're going to ask me how many personalities I have? =)
I also think this is a key to breaking bad habits in ourselves. They say if you're trying to break a drug addiction it's critical to break your ties with those friends. I can see why. It's really yourself you're trying to break free from. It's true with anything you're trying to change, even dieting. There are people I will unavoidably pig out with. That's who I am with them. I immediately enter a comfort zone where chocolate has no calories and donuts are health food. If you want to change, you must avoid those friends and places that tempt, and perhaps you'll be "surprised to realize who (you) become when circumstances change."
Fiction has a lot of truth in it.

I Think It's Getting To The Point

Feb 26, 2010--Friday

Okay, today I had a moment. I felt this urge to get on the treadmill. I've wanted to for a while, but I always have an excuse, like, "I just showered," or "I should really clean--that's exercise," or "I just ate." But nope, today, despite taking a shower, doing my hair, and just eating--I pulled it back and allowed myself to get sweaty and risk throwing up my breakfast. I was listening to my new I-pod, and feeling these major surges of energy. I felt all this pent up stress releasing. It felt great, after weeks of locking myself hand and eyeball to my laptop for that LDS Storymakers First Chapter's Contest (which I won't win anyway.) The song came on "Call and Answer" by Barenaked Ladies and I turned it up, which is pretty radical for me. ;) I also took up the pace, and gave it all I had. I was lost in the music and the beat, and felt it was thumping directly to my heart. It was beautiful. So beautiful I wanted to cry. I felt peace, like I was myself again. I thought, man I'm a mess, what's wrong with me? I came to the conclusion it's because I hadn't heard beautiful sounds in a long time.

I think I'm sound sensitive. If you want to annoy me scream really loud for a long, long time. I can put up with a lot, but noises really start to bug me after a while. So, four kids is a challenge in patience at times. I've been spending a lot of time writing--perhaps too much time.

Last night, I actually slammed my laptop shut and told my husband, "I'm a stinky writer! I'm going to bed!" I was sick of reading my own work, hearing my ugly voice in my head. This was also after an hour and a half practice at Youth Symphony (not pretty sounding, hate to say, although good for everyone involved. And the kids crying and fighting all day. I was tired of listening to my nagging, begging, threatening voice. And the whiny answers. I have ugly-sounds-burn-out. Yup, that's what I'm going to call it. So, today I'm going to only listen to pretty sounds. I'm gonna talk nice, listen to nice music, and not write anything but this blog posting.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Coming Out of the Closet

I realized the other day that I'm going insane. Okay, maybe that's too strong a word, but I need a place separate from the cute photos of my family to write about...well, writing. I love to write and I'm trying my hand at fiction, but I need a place I can put my thoughts into concrete words--the things I'm learning about and experiencing with writing. It's a real process and I can feel myself growing from it. I'm still shy to even admit I write, so this is a way for me to be more vocal, "come out of the closet" so to speak. I've had days where I just really want to tell the world what I've learned. So, now I can, without writing long winded emails to friends.