Saturday, May 31, 2008

In Fiction Writing, Words Are the Vehicle for the Visceral Experience

The role of language and words in fiction writing

Fiction writing is not about language.
It is about experience and feelings, and where do experience and feelings lie? In the body. Nothing is more human than the body, and few things are more confounding than the passions that lie within: everything from the most tender love to the most murderous rage. Therefore, if as writers we are to explore and express the human condition, we must approach our task through the body, not through the mind ―  through experience, not through words. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and literally experience everything you write about. That’s what the imagination is for. You imagine and the characters unleashed from your creative unconscious live the life and through them, you live it, too.

When personal experiences are not enough...
Dorsey, one of my students, put it this way:"When I began to write, I wrote about personal experiences that would have shriveled my mother’s toes. Like how I sliced my forehead with a razor (just a little bit) when I was ten years old, how I ran away, and how I suffered with a cancer operation. But alas, there was a limit to my experiences. Then Emily explained how I could tell limitless stories with fiction. I could be savage, coy, or seductive. I could be a throat slitter, a convent girl, or a dull dowager. I could be all those things so unmentionable when I was growing up. Emily spoke of finding the passion of the characters. It made me want to twist my fingers with embarrassment at first, those words—passion, lust, anger . ..

I would say that ninety percent of the people who come to me either do not know how to or are afraid to let out their passion. The other ten percent, who hurl themselves down the Rabbit Hole willy-nilly, have other problems to confront. Usually such people are very at home in the chaos of the unknown, but must struggle to get order. 

Every successful writer I know is a risk taker....
My student, Dorsey, is a risk taker, and every writer I know who is successful is a risk taker. By success, I don’t mean they’ve made the best sellers list or even are able to sell their book or story. Creative success means they struggle, sometimes daily, with their demons and open to the passion of their writing. Success means they have found discipline that allows them to write through the blocks and survive the dry spells. Success means that they know in their heart that they are a writer and that, on most days, they love the writer within. They write despite the angst, they write for the joy, they write for the wonder, the experience and the surprises. They write because they are writers and they must write. They write because to write is to journey, to change, to grow. They write because for a writer it is in the writing that life is often lived most deeply.

Writing is, at its core, experiential.
And the truly miraculous part, I have discovered, is that when we brave the journey and open fully to our passions through our characters, we actually integrate those passions into ourselves. We expand as human beings. This is what I call writing as ritual. If we battle our Inner Critics, if we battle the inner demons, if we gather in the disowned parts of ourselves by merging with our characters, then we are actually, literally changed because of the journey. Passionate writing, writing that scares us witless, is transformative for the writer.
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