Writing Fiction: Why Should An Author Bare Their Soul?In politics, social media, and business, the adage is very true: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
For fiction writers, it’s different. Baring your soul is something you should do because now, in our age of fast self-publishing, you can.
Consider these quotes:
“I will not bare my soul to their shallow prying eyes. My heart shall never be put under their microscope.” Oscar WildeI took up this study of fiction in order to understand life better. Because people use fiction to explore their own soul. To change it. To improve it if they can.
“To bare our souls is all we ask, to give all we have to life and the beings surrounding us. Here the nature spirits are intense and we appreciate them, make offerings to them – these nature spirits who call us here – sealing our fate with each other, celebrating our love.” Alex Grey
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” Virginia Wolfe
“She dances to the songs in her head, speaks with the rhythm of her heart, and loves from the depths of her soul.” Dean Jackson
“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Khalil Gibran
Fiction is the great crucible of all souls, all self-image, all pure self-essence.
Studying Jack Bickham’s “Scene & Structure” brought me this tidbit:
Fiction, and all writing, connects the story up – via the author’s unconscious – right into the reader’s unconscious. You have a direct approach through to the self-concept (soul) of the reader. And they welcome you in – or shut you out.Readers are fascinated and threatened by change in their real lives, and nothing else fascinates or threatens them so much in fiction. Why?Because each of us carries around inside ourselves a mental picture of the kind of person we are. “I’m an efficient secretary,” we may say. Or, “I’m an outdoorsman who loves to hunt.” Or, “I’m a hometown boy not interested in travel far from home.” This self-concept is at the heart of our opinion of ourselves – how much we like ourselves, how much confidence we feel, etc. – and we live our lives in large measure to be in consonance with this self-concept, and to enhance it. Our self-concept is our most precious mental and emotional possession.
That is the whole reason for improving your craft. Reader’s want to be transported to a different world than the one they are living. They want more mystery, suspense, thrills, adventure, and romance in their lives. And they hope you are skilled enough to give it to them.
Because they want to evolve. And they expect their characters to evolve. They expect to resonate with those characters you write about and so, to learn new lessons vicariously. They expect their hero(ines) to be larger than life and live more fully than they are.
Because people have accepted the mundane as normal, and want their imagination stretched for them. And so fiction has evolved to fill the consumable, instant gratification slots in our lives. Romance and Thriller ebooks.
The author is baring their soul, through their own interpretation of the story that has come to them through their own unconscious. That story has a great deal of the author in it. The passions, grief, happiness, sadness, joys – all of these are worn on the sleeve of the author as they write what they know into their books.
Writing is also the exploration of the author into their own history, experiences, questions, mysteries. The act of writing enables them to relive their own life, to correct and atone for the mistakes they’ve made. Writing allows them to grieve, to celebrate, to worship. Their words allow them to explore and evolve themselves, through their many characters, settings, themes, and plot structures. They use their characters to resolve their own problems, or to validate their approach to living and life.
That Oscar Wilde quote is first, because it is exactly what Wilde didn’t do with his own writing. To be sure, the characters are not the individual – exactly. But their actions and reactions live in our universe due to the interpretation of the author’s own foibles, wants, needs, cravings, excesses. The author is working out his own world, filtering the inspired story they interpret though their words over to an unknown, unseen reader. In many cases, across time where the reader hasn’t even been born yet. And that is a helluva long time to have a bare soul. Wilde’s works are still funny and popular today. But his own life was tragic.
Characters are “fiction” and the events, even if based on true ones, are more memoir than biography. The author is projecting. To the degree that author can pick up and explore the broadly common themes, their books will resonate with a broad readership. Even if they transport their readers (or especially) to another world/time/place. A place where the reader feels safe to examine ideas, ideals, beliefs that they have never wanted to talk about with their own families or friends.
It’s safer to project through fiction than through your own voice in real life. Politicians constantly violate this. They project constantly. There’s the old adage, “When you point out someone else’s faults, three more fingers are pointing back at you.” Something like 90% of the time, that politician is guilty of the exact same thing they are saying some opponent is doing. Test it for yourself. Chase up some back-trails of these people. (That gives you a reason to support politicians who are mostly constructive and positive in their words and deeds.)
To the degree authors write for very small audiences, they are examining extreme beliefs way outside the mainstream. And so will not have a large readership with those stories. It’s not the story itself, it’s how the author has embedded certain character and description tags into the story which are offensive or highly uncomfortable to the majority. Marvel has run into this recently by trying to “push the envelope” with their comics, and so found that the ones with non-mainstream characters and beliefs don’t sell as well. The result has been to cancel future editions of many of them. The reality is that there are only so many spots open in bookstores. Those are usually reserved for the bestselling books. Bookstores aren’t libraries. They have to make a decent profit to stay open. But libraries also have the same problem. They won’t replace books that are never checked out. And also have to remove these to make room for books that are. Only so much physical shelf room.
Why do I write?
In some cases, I write to grieve loss. You can see this in my “Long Overdue Santa.” I lost a very devoted and loving border collie this year. Raised her from a teething pup. On a working farm, you have a constant companion in Death. Plants are born, grow, and die in a single year. Insects in months, birds in a few years, pets depart after many more. Oddly, the lowly box turtle can live to be hundreds of years old. And you see massive oaks and hickories that have survived several human generations. But many of these same varieties birth saplings that only live a few years at best. When a pet freely gives their love and devotion to you, the resonance can be massive. When it is cut out of your life, some resolution is needed. Writing that story helped me cry as I did. (And there’s my soul offered up for you.)
Writers read, and so, learn. They learn the common themes, the common plots, the popular genres. And so they improve their craft and also evolve as beings. I read Romance to better understand the fairer sex, and the interactions both sides need. And so write better romantic story arcs. Funny enough, while Erotica makes you horny, I recently got so involved with the characters in a book series that I found myself scanning through some of the explicit scenes to find out how the characters evolved through the non-sexual scenes. Those characters and their romantic interactions became more important to me than what or how they fulfilled themselves physically.
On the other hand, I started to watch some romantic movies based on Nicolas Sparks’ books and quit both of them less than half-way through. The action was ponderous in these, almost glacial. I don’t know if his books are that way, hopefully not. The movies didn’t fit my preferences. But right now, I’m working on short stories, in order to master scenes, so that I can build scenes into serials and then into full novels. So maybe my patience needs more practice.
The other interesting point is to find out that non-fiction writing improves by learning fiction craft. This explains how Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is still so popular. It’s full of stories that add up to action steps. This is Malcolm Gladwell’s success. He doesn’t write great non-fiction, since he doesn’t validate his endings right – just leaves you hanging. But the individual stories-as-chapters are great. And his books sell well because he tells great stories on a chapter-by-chapter basis. The best are in search of answers to life problems. The worst non-fiction books are simply toss-off recipes on how to do this or that. They are only the ending to the story. Pick up some books by Daniel Pink and you’ll see how his books are routinely bestsellers. He writes the story and also validates the endings with the steps you can take.
There are many others along this line.
The most disappointing works are where an author or celebrity tries to push an agenda, or lets someone push them into an agenda. (One recent bad example was an media-industry award show featuring actresses wearing high-priced, low-cut, and revealing gowns talking about being sexually harassed. One wonders why…) Our greatest actors simply keep their personal beliefs to themselves. Especially politics. They are the character we want to believe in. We seldom follow politicians for very long. Because they are flawed. (Mark Twain said, “Politicians and babies should be changed often, and for the same reason.”) People want to believe in heroes. Fictional characters, especially in books, are how we create them in our mind. We want to believe. We want to get involved in an adventure or romance which is larger then our own lives. Actors playing film characters are still that version we want to believe in. We don’t want to know their foibles. We want Princess Leia to live forever.
Fiction helps the writer help the reader live larger than life.
That’s the punchline.
Learn to live larger. Read more. Write more.
And if you like what you just read:
from The Great Fiction Writing Challenge – Living Sensical http://ift.tt/2DuxejD