Monday, June 08, 2009

Mirror, Mirror

(this blog was originally a column in FUTURES magazine, @ 1999. FYI)

If a tree falls in the great forest, and no one’s there, does it make a sound? If a writer creates a character, and it’s drawn solely from his or her own mind, isn’t the character really the writer? If the basic task of literature is to explore the human heart and mind, whose heart and mind are we really exploring?

I don't know what the answer is to the first ‘if’ posited. But the second and third ‘ifs’ are things that have wandered around in my brain from time to time. You see, as an investigator, I spend a lot of my working moments wondering about people. Why do they do the things they do? What motivates them? What makes them follow their dreams or succumb to their fears?

It’s almost a requisite in investigative work to have the ability to get inside your subject’s head. Think his thoughts, walk in his shoes. I know of no other way to approach a locate on missing person than to understand what forced him to run in the first place.

When I read fiction -- or try to write fiction -- I see the same processes at work. A big part of characterization is making sure the character acts, well, in character. A bizarre action must be proceeded by a sufficiently bizarre catalyst in the plot.

But this bizarre action (or not so bizarre action) really isn’t the character’s. It’s the writer’s. It’s yours. And mine.

Everything you read, and everything you write, is a very personal internal journey. It’s an exposition of exposing deep desires and fears. It’s preferences, opinions, possibilities. It’s total vulnerability, couched in fiction, offered for entertainment.

Sue Grafton recently stated in an interview that her well-known character, Kinsey Milhone, is her younger (and thinner) other-self. And more than one mystery novelist has posed on the back cover with the ubiquitous fedora skewed over one eye. I’ll willingly admit, as science fiction romance is my genre and poison of choice, that one of my most treasured possessions is a video tape of me in full Star Fleet captain’s uniform on the bridge of the Enterprise. No, I wasn’t an extra on the set of the shows or the movies. Universal Studios in Orlando, for a fee, offers theme park patrons a chance to ‘star’ in their own five minute “Star Trek” scene. For me, a personal Nirvana.

I think our desire to find these personal nirvanas blossoms most frequently in the arts: literature, music, visual arts. The instrument, the book cover, the ornate frame provides us just enough distance to be able to comfortably bare our souls. It permits us to be able to fall back on the excuse of, “I was only pretending”. It’s just a poem. A story. A painting.

The human heart and mind, the “human condition”, to me, is not that personal. The human condition is an aggregate. A pollster’s result. The view from afar.

When I as an investigator work a missing person case, or a deep background, the far view does me very little good. We are not motivated by our similarities but by our eccentricities. Our secret desire to be a starship captain, an invincible heroine, an ageless wonder with thinner thighs. A tried and true saying in investigative work is that there are only two elements to any crime: motive and opportunity.

Notice that motive comes first.

And motives are very, very personal.

Cases are solved not through generalities but through attention to specifics.

And literature, in my humble opinion, pool side here at the Center for the Slightly Skewed, is compelling not for its broad strokes but for its fine lines and shadings. Its infinite and sharp definition of detail. It’s a one on one, hand in hand, personal encounter. Just you and me in the midst of the great forest, sitting on that tree that fell when no one was around to hear it.

Baring our unique and very individual souls.

Linnea Sinclair
// Interstellar Adventure Infused with Romance//
Available Now from Bantam: Hope's Folly

1 comment:

  1. The answer to the second is 'no.' Just like genes mix together to create a unique individual baby when her parents make love, the character is unique. I see little bits of me in each of my characters, and my babies, but each one takes on a life of her own and becomes something unique.

    Nannies, and mommies, are a like private investigators, only the subjects we study are much sweeter.
    What motivates a brand new baby? If a parent firmly believes babies are blank slates who only eat, poop, and cry, they're in for a world of hurt! But, the parent who accepts the newborn as a unique human being capable and driven to learn and grow, she'll be starting a path to understanding and, therefore, a much more pleasant parenting experience.