Uhh…let’s try things in the opposite order, shall we?
Instead of putting a song at the end of the post, I am going to put it here at the beginning. Hit “play” and listen as you read…I was listening to this song (and more) as I wrote, and I am going to draw on that as I write…
Where do I turn to
When there’s no choice to make?
Think about your characters’ reaction to those lines…
What if I need you?
In my darkest hour.
Yep, think about them again…
Look, if you’ve read your Joseph Campbell, you recognize the “Hero’s journey” in those sentiments. Who knew the Hero suffered from the same bullshit problems and depression as the rest of us?
He (or she) kinda has to. A hero who doesn’t suffer like the rest of us, who doesn’t have the same problems and defects, is the purest bullshit. Without those flaws, he or she is a nothing more than a comic book figure…a cheesy ‘50’s serial…a fake 2D caricature…
The only way for a person to learn, the only way to grow, is to have flaws and problems to overcome — and your heroes/protagonists are people, right?
From the next song on the album (something of a continuation of the first):
If we come back and we’re broken
Unworthy and ashamed
Give us something to believe in
And you know we’ll go your way
More than that — Hell yeah.
In one sense, that’s your audience speaking…but only in the shallowest reading.
No, there is a lot more going on there, for the writer, than just projecting your readers/audience into the words. I’ve talked about it more than once, but it bears repeating: we’re all broken. We’re all unworthy and ashamed, in one way or another.
And we all need something to believe in.
Our job as writers is to recognize those things. To recognize them, to internalize them, and to use them in our words.
Look, I like a good “beach read” as much as the next guy. I like fluff pieces of adventure and mystery, but they don’t speak to me. They don’t mean anything.
If you, as a writer, want to mean something with your words, then you better damned well learn to write about more. Don’t write about plot points, or settings, or events…write about people. If you nail that part of it, if your characters are people, the other stuff will (hopefully!) fall into line. You have to get the people right — you have to get the pain and the triumph, the tears and boredom and desire for escape as much as the celebration and excitement and contentment — if you want to truly speak to those who read your words. If you want to give them something to believe in, if you want to have them follow you…
This is, by the way, another of those posts that ran away with me. I sat down, listening to these songs, and thought I would be writing about “Idea A”.
Okay, so Idea A may have to come in a future post…
What I did end up writing about, however, is something in which I believe very, very firmly. I want you to think about those books that truly mattered to you, that truly meant something. Think about the story, and about what the author wanted to say…and how he or she said it.
Was it with all the bullshit we talk about Lit 101 classes, or was it with the characters? Think about what mattered to you — what made you think, what made you learn — then think about your on writing…
…then thank those authors that meant something.
For me, that means a list of books and writers that mattered to me that differs from the “list of favorites” I’ll often cite to new readers/writers:
Thank you, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn.
Thank you, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Thank you, Tom Wolfe.
Thank you, Somerset Maugham.
Thank you, Thomas Mann.
Thank you to every writer who made me think, who made me cry, or who made me scratch my head and wonder why.