Sunday, January 10, 2010

Writing Through Pain

In the last post, I wrote about one part of what I think it takes to move a reader and how important I think that work is.

Now I'll talk about a related aspect of that.

How do we translate big, real-world feelings to the page in a way that is useful?

I've made it clear enough in recent posts, I think, that the last year-plus has been a struggle for me.

The details, in this case, don't particularly matter (and, No!, you can't get away with such a cop-out in your fiction). But I found myself with a life that was nauseatingly off track, broken enough that I felt utterly incapable of smart corrective action. There was much painful drama, too. Not the worst that people can suffer, for sure. But the struggles were numerous, persistent and often-surprising. Redirecting my efforts in life has proven painful, as well (it looks to people as if I'm changing the rules of the game at half-time, and they resent it).

The point here is not to garner sympathy. If I were after that, I'd have had to prove it with details, right? With simple action and dialog. All I've done here is crappy editorial. But I'm allowing myself because the next point is the one that matters.

How do you translate these kinds of struggles into something meaningful on the page?

It's great as a writer, I think, to experience just about every possible emotion, to experience it big and small. How else does your writing acquire a depth and legitimacy?

So, even suffering is useful.

The struggle, though, entails translating powerful feeling to the page in a way in which readers can feel it. This is where the rule from the previous post--prove it with action and dialog--comes in.

Your editorial voice is at its most powerful when you're buried in the throes of something real and emotional. And if you embrace that part of you during the writing, you will likely produce a whiny diary-like effect. In which everything is suffering and your characters eternally put-upon. This will not move readers.

Suffering, at its worst, feels utterly pointless. And so will your story. Readers, whether they know it or not, demand a point.

Time and distance, as best I can tell, are required. But so is a simple understanding that you will lean toward bleak and whiny. At every turn, look for a way to lift your story out of the darkness. I'm not talking happily-ever-afters, here. I am simply saying that suffering alone is not a worthy topic for a story.

Next up, in the spirit of Prove It, I'll present short samples that I hope will approximate the best of what I'm recommending.

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