Impetus for Creative Spawn

Like angels and devils breading hordes of bastard monstrosities, the impetus for the type of stories I like to write comes out of the comingling of two polar opposite ideologies.  One is quite happy frolicking with idealism and innocence, while the other takes great pleasure in torturing countless victims.  Together they make for unpleasant friends.  The type to cater to your highest morals and simultaneously use those morals to bash you into the dirt.

Silence MonkeyMore or less, I can’t write a story (or complete a story I should say) unless I’m telling on someone.  I’ve thought about this extensively.  Largely because I was stuck for a long time, years even, on getting a collection of short stories to completion.  Now I’m writing a novel and burning through the second revision phase.  I think a lot about writerly things, like why I write, what drives me, why did I get stuck, and how did I get unstuck?  When you’re deep in the muck that is stagnation you will contemplate ideas and processes you never would in other circumstances.

One of the conclusions I realized recently was that I could not and still can not complete, finish, finalize, bring to fruition, totalize a story unless I am telling on someone.  I always write from real life experiences.  I fictionalize small things here and there to create a strong story arch, but more or less everything I’ve written has been about something that has truly happened to me, or to someone around me.

In the previously mentioned short story collection, Reflections on the Water, I had a number of stories that were fantastic conceptually.  They would have made for great stories, and maybe they will one day when I go back to them.  But what I discovered was that the stories didn’t keep me interested because I wasn’t trying to get someone in trouble.  Meaning, the characters weren’t divulging something terrible in each other.

I tend to like the big issues and the most disgusting behavior, like racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the oppressive qualities that they tend to come with.  Typcially, there also has to be systemic issues that reflect the micro behavior, so if a character says something racist against Native people (or dark skinned Native people) we get that people live isolated lives and keep their circles very small because they aren’t emotionally strong enough to expand their circle.  They’re emotionally like a child and need any and every form of protection to make them feel all snuggly safe.

What makes the issue more interesting, or interesting enough for me to complete a short story or add into a novel, is if the racism is supported by an entire system.  Not necessarily an entire community, but it could be that.  I like things that show systemic issues on a smaller scale than community or national.  It makes the issue more tangible and readers, including myself, can actually witness the details of such gross behavior.  So if there is an organization that is supporting oppression of Native voices (or dark skinned Native voices), then it becomes more tangible, because readers will immediately reflect on their own place of work and determine if they run into the same issue.  They’ll either recognize it and see how the issue is real and needs to be changed.  Or they will not recognize it and say to themselves “What’s wrong with the people in this book/community?”  Either type of judgment works for me.  I’m looking for a reaction that will drive people to action.

I’ve started great stories that made it through several drafts and one in particular that made it all the way to what I thought was a final draft, but they turned out to lose steam.  Why?  Because of the absence of micro and macro societal abuse.  If one or the other is singularly present in the story it will fail.  If it has both?  Micro and macro?  The statement along with the condoning voices in the room.  That’s what makes for a good story.  A story readers will want to read over and over again.

 

 

(Works Cited:  The image above was borrowed from flicr.)

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9 thoughts on “Impetus for Creative Spawn

  1. I love what you wrote about people isolating themselves out of fear to expand their circle. Fear, I think, is the main motivator behind racism and other close-minded attitudes. What you said, “people live isolated lives and keep their circles very small because they aren’t emotionally strong enough to expand their circle. They’re emotionally like a child and need any and every form of protection to make them feel all snuggly safe.” reminds me of a few people I know. Perhaps keeping this in mind will help me understand them and deal with them more kindly.

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  2. I’ve just finished reading Long Walk to Freedom, an autobiography by Nelson Mandela, the South African struggle icon. You may or may not be aware of it. As far as racism and ‘telling on others’ are concerned, he, and of course his fellow activists, made a very good job of shaming the white people here into handing over power – eventually. It took more than 40 years. Point is, they didn’t give up – on ‘telling on others’. A remarkable telling by a remarkable man.

    I read somewhere something Doris Lessing said, in giving advice on what to write and why to write: what needs to be said? What discrepancy in society, human behaviour should be told? Her The Golden Notebook or TGN for short is my personal favourite of hers.

    In online writing courses (free through Novoed, University of Iowa, MOOC) they also advised us to think of our personal concerns, be it the environment, feminism, racism, abuse and so on and to ‘tell on someone’. Drawing from one’s own life and from those around us is unavoidable, even recommended. Fictionalised areas are then grounded in reality, so the story doesn’t fly off the page in a whiff of nothing.

    I’ve been influenced and changed (informed) by books I read. I remember a poem I read that saved a situation for me. We do what we do so to influence others, to make them see the truth of whatever matter we talk about. Even shock them, when necessary.

    I’m yet to find the personal discipline to see something through. There are files and files of wannabe stories on my computer … perhaps I should work on my concentration span? If you take this as advice for yourself, it wasn’t meant to be. 🙂 Someone else somewhere said: what I write is my responsibility, what people make of it is theirs. So there.

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    1. Amazing, and well said. I love the last few lines: “What I write is my responsibility, what people make of it is theirs.” Those are very liberating words. Thank you, Petru. I appreciate your reflection and it has made me reflect as well.

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  3. I think overall, it is difficult to create any reaction that drives people to action. Call my a cynic but people are generally rather shallow from my experience and are more likely to respond to cute cat videos. “What’s wrong with the people in this book/community?” is also probably a more likely response. I think few people are self-reflective.

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    1. I also have those more pessimistic feelings about society. People tend to click on the things that make them feel safe and don’t offer challenges that may radically change their lives. For some reason it doesn’t stop me from trying, or hasn’t yet, or I guess some days I don’t try for that reason and then other days I do try (and those are the days I write a blog post, lol). Maybe it depends on my identity that day. My more optimistic days I try to make myself believe people can be self reflective. I agree the judgmental way people read into story are often fused with inadequacies or the firing of inadequate bullets at ‘others.’ Okay I’m starting to go off other things. I must have had too much coffee this morning. I’ll stop now.

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      1. I found the post. It had made it’s way over to the spam folder. Come to find out, other posts had done the same. I’ll have to check my spam more often. Thank you for your powerful words.

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