It speaks to the question of why should one write
I don’t usually cross-post, but this topic has more than one direction. It also appears in a newsletter I compile for St. Paul’s in the Pines Episcopal Church.
I like a mystery. I was raised on Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart. I watch them on TV. And, I write mysteries myself. So, why the profound interest in the fictional disasters and deaths of people I will never know?
Because in figuring out the puzzles in the stories, or creating puzzles for others, I get to explore human relationships. And in that exploration comes truth. Truth about people, about how relationships and emotions work, truth about life.
I ran across a person recently who openly berated me for not watching the news on TV. (I hadn’t said I didn’t, but that’s a different issue.)
He said, “You only know what you read.” (again, another discussion could focus on the fact that written news goes into deeper depth.)
But what I wanted to say, and sadly didn’t, was that fiction, while only limitedly a source of facts, is often a great source of truth. Stories are told to convey the very things I mentioned at the top. Behavior. Emotion. Relationships. Ideas. Concepts. In short, stories convey the truths of people. Or at least, they can. And those are the kind of stories I like to read and write.
The person speaking to me was very proud of the fact that what he knew came from his experience and TV. Personal experience is great, but it is limited in that it is one-sided and tied to the places one has personally been. Books – and other means of telling stories – take us to other people’s experiences. We get to see more than our own point of view, for better or for worse.
It happens that stories were greatly used by someone my conversation partner admired. Jesus used many parables to illustrate his points. And parables are distinctly defined as stories, not facts.
Truth can be found in jokes. Profoundness can be found in puns and homilies in war flicks. People of earth have communicated news and truths through words since they first decided ‘ugh!’ was used to describe something they didn’t like.
Words are thought of as written, like this column. But you are reading it on a screen. It could be illustrated with graphics or even an animation. And it could be shown to you on a news broadcast (however far-fetched that is). The point is, regardless of the tool or the medium, it’s all words. And the same care and deep thought should go into each and every one of those words when we share them. Especially if we are trying to convey truth.
I like mysteries. Humanity is life’s great mystery, and I view God as the author. While I never expect to solve this mystery, my hope is that by reading and writing about it, I can illuminate things a little and add a bit of truth to the pile.
“Whenever I have endured or accomplished some difficult task — such as watching television, going out socially or sleeping — I always look forward to rewarding myself with the small pleasure of getting back to my typewriter and writing something.”
“I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.”
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”
All three of these quotes are from Isaac Asimov, writer of over 500 works in fields as diverse as science fact, science fiction, religion, and mystery. (Hmm, diverse but not unrelated.)
I can relate to all three of these statements, as well as the fact that Asimov was indeed a generalist. If he wanted to write about something, he did.
And that’s the kind of writer I am.
What kind are you? Do any of these quotes describe you and writing?
I was re-reading the title of my previous post, Never Promise What You Can’t Deliver..., within the context of current headlines and social media. It struck me that that is where America is now. We can’t deliver on any of the promises we have made. Not the ones our Founding Fathers made, not the ones made by our recently past presidents (even ones I was not fond of), not the ones made by our social institutions, our education system, our health care system. None of us can deliver to our children the America whose image we held up to them in the past. We’re foundering. We have promises broken and promises yet unfulfilled. There are NO CURRENT PROMISES WE CAN TRUST that will be helpful to any of us. And although they themselves don’t realize it, they will not even be helpful to the promisers.
In light of calls to action by so many, I had to wonder, what promises am I fulfilling? What am I doing to help? Not as much as I should. And so I recommit, to take the action of putting my talents to use to make this a better country and a better world. In our fears, purposely cultivated to keep our eyes trained on them instead of on finding solutions, we have allowed ourselves to be paralyzed. No more.
We are here (whether by accident or design) to make this a better place for all who inhabit the planet. YES. Check your prejudices – and even your religions – at the door. We Are Here to Make this a BETTER PLACE for ALL. Because if it’s not better for some, it’s not better for anyone, and we will fail. No matter who or what you believe in, even if it’s nothing. Our job is to make this a better place.
That is the promise we need to keep.
Besides being a means of offering my excuses for missing deadline once again, this short list enumerates various ways promising something can get you into trouble.
That’s a saying that was taught to me by my screenwriting son. It refers to economy and purpose in writing. When you put an object or person into a scene, there’s a reason they are there. There has to be, particularly in any short writing, but even in novels.
Mysteries may be notorious for red herrings and misdirection, but that’s not what you’re doing if you are introducing stuff into scenes and not doing something with them. Ie, there is no reason for a gun on the mantelpiece in a young woman’s apartment, unless there it is going to be used. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels stalked. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels under siege by law enforcement. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels stalked and under siege by an ex-boyfriend. Maybe it just goes off and the bullet strikes her baby. Maybe she’s going to sell it, turn it in, clean it, or use it on the damn cat, but that gun needs to be used somehow. Or it needs to not be there.
Even 600-page novels have a finite number of ideas to convey, in a finite number of words. If you can’t deliver follow-up why something is on the page, if its being there doesn’t serve a purpose later on, don’t promise the reader that it does. Take it out.
Now I’ll go finish my book. No, that was not a promise, but I will.