Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Little Something Came Up PART I

Linnea did a great job tackling this subject, but let me go back to Cindy's original post on torturing characters.

Cindy Holby wrote in her Saturday March 22nd Post on torturing characters:
Character is what rises to the top when put under extreme pressure. We all would like to think that we would react "heroically" when we are put into life or death situations. But until we actually experience it we do not know how we will act.

Cindy's right. Pressure builds when old, internal issues come boiling to the top as things go wrong on the way to an important karmic appointment.

But this is one of those eternal truths writers have to learn the hard way.

Yes, we know we love books that torment the most lovable hero. Yes, we swoop along on that terrible ride pretending we could do as well or better in real life, gasping at the twists and turns, and squirming in our seats.

But now we're facing that dreaded blank white computer window, determined to write one of "those" stories -- and we don't know what to put.

Who is this guy? Where did he come from? Why is he scared blue-lipped? What would it take to make him pee his pants? And how can we ever think of it?

You can't just pick a few traits arbitrarily and expect them to go together to create the image of a great guy in readers' minds.

Human beings (or believable aliens) are made up of traits that "go together" -- that form a pattern, that have something to do with each other, that are not arbitrary or random. That underlying template, archetype, pattern is what we mean when we say "character" and what Cindy meant when she said "character rises to the top".

What "rises" -- what becomes visible -- is the "right stuff" inside the character, the guts, and other body parts we use to represent strength, judgement, moral fiber, kindness, motivation, values.

The character is recognized by the reader/viewer as "real" because the traits revealed fit together to form a recognizable pattern. This can be a pattern we've seen inside ourselves and know that nobody else sees -- or it can be a pattern we've seen in others -- yearning for such a person to discern our own secret pattern.

How do you figure out what collection of traits would make your reader's eyeballs glue to your pages, yearning for your character to recognize their internal "right stuff?"

That question is not a "craft" question. It can't be answered by craft.

It is an "art" question -- and believe it or not, it does indeed have an answer that can be learned and applied by anyone who can write a literate English sentence.

The "art" of story is a huge, deep question that spreads far and wide into the realm of philosophy, spirituality, and even politics.

How do you "become" a writer? How do you get to where the writers you admire so much are? Where do you go to learn to write?

You can find most community colleges and even universities offering some courses in writing, (some in business writing or journalism which actually pays better or steadier). But many of those courses are titled "Creative Writing" -- which is not (trust me) what you really want if you aspire to become a commercial writer of fiction.

For each field or genre of writing, there is a system of thinking that generates the words. Fiction is no exception, at least not commercial fiction.

I've written extensively about the art behind the craft of writing in my review column.


Many writers do their "art" subconsciously and speak at length about how they just feel their way into a story, maybe write bits and pieces out of sequence, -- or it all just appears in mind, a character demands to have his story told. But not everyone who has that experience turns out a piece of truly commercial fiction.

What's the difference between what wells up from your subconscious and what wells up from Cindy Holby's subconscious?

It's not just craft -- though without craft even the best stuff won't make it on the commercial market. Today's readers are spoiled by a consistent level of craftsmanship in published books.

One reason e-book sales haven't grown faster is that initially many e-books had that inspiration and art behind them, but lacked craft. Readers weren't satisfied.

That's changing and the competition is getting tougher.

So where can a writer go to learn what other writers are born knowing?

Philosophy. Religion. Anthropology. Even TV News.

Since I have a mathematical bent of mind, I found astrology to be the quickest path to making sense out of Internal and External conflict and how it generates plot -- in an artistic way. But I read a lot of psychology textbooks before I hit on astrology. You can learn all of Astrology by reading biographies, psychology, sociology, history and anthropology. Or you can take the shortcut and learn astrology which combines all of that with Art.

See noeltyl.com for lessons.

Now what is "art" - in general and in specific.
You might say Art is a language -- a language of the soul, perhaps. Art is a method of depicting something intangible and literally un-know-able -- i.e. something that can't be accessed via the cognitive faculty which produces "knowledge."

A Seer, a Prophet, a Wise Woman, (or a writer) apprehends a pattern that subsumes all reality, a prototype of reality -- the template upon which our lives are based, and struggles mightily to convey that Vision to people who have no Eye to see it with.

That "struggle" is not a conscious struggle. It comes from the same place inside us that the need to talk comes from -- as a baby learns to say words, an artist learns to "say" characters, form, motion, color, dimension, beauty and ugliness contrasted, balanced or over-balanced.

What that Seer produces in her struggle is what we call Art. It is a language in which we discuss emotion, feelings, aspirations, dreams, and hope.

Think shamanistic storytelling.

Think Bard.

Like any language, it has grammar and syntax, vocabulary where "words" are related to each other in a systematic way.

In the world of Art, baby-talk doesn't sell books.

Erudite and facile use of the language of art, use that profiles and displays the art form itself as an end in itself, does indeed sell books.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT TUESDAY - if Rowena remembers to post Part II. I will be teaching at Ecumenicon Thursday March 27-30, back at my desk on April 2.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

No comments:

Post a Comment