Sunday, September 30, 2007

Midnight ramblings: On "Stranger Than Fiction"

10 years of writer's block on the part of his author has left Harold Crick to develop into his own character, living his life without the interruption of his author's presence.

When the author returns to continue her story, it seems, quite literally, that her character has developed into something quite his own. He has emerged from the pages of her manuscript, and is literally so alive that he has become real. Without ever meaning to, the author has created a person - not just an idea on paper to be pushed and prodded in this or that direction, but a real, live person who is living his life quite fine on his own, even if it is a bit routine and boring. All of a sudden, the author isn't creating a character and a life and a plot line, but she is telling the story of a real man, and every line she types has real consequences for him.

Indeed, how many times have you sat down to write, with a certain plot line, a path for the story to follow in mind? And how many times have your characters seemingly decided something else? That, no, they aren't going to get on the bus and go to work that day (where you planned on a ridiculously boring seminar, and a series of repetitive, dull conversations at the water cooler), but that they will get off the bus one stop early, and somehow find their way into a back alley. They'll save a woman being mugged and fall in love, witness a violent crime and either have to go into witness protection under a ridiculous alias or help catch the guy, or they might even become involved in the underhanded dealings of the local organised crime ring. Honestly, complain your characters, anything but another boring seminar at that stupid office, because if they have to have one more stupid conversation at that stupid water cooler, they'll jump out their window. Seriously.

And so, instead of your story following the mundane life of an office paper pusher, you find yourself writing a romance, comedy, intrigue, mystery, or maybe a crime drama. And, once again, you have to scrap your plans and simply write where your characters take you. Honestly, you think, don't those characters know their place? You are, after all, the omnipotent author, and they are just pawns in your master plans.

Oh, how terribly, terribly mistaken are we.

As authors, our goal is to write a good story. To write something that will capture our readers, to shock, inspire, or even enlighten them. And, for those who are professional writers, to hopefully sell more books so you can afford the coffee/tea/caffeine-laden beverage of choice that keeps you (and us hobby-writers, too) going on those late nights.

Often, though, we don't realise that a good story isn't created by a good author with, say, a great vocabulary or a moderate understanding of literary theory. A good story, while in its early stages, is already there, dormant in our minds, and all we writers really do is let it out. We breath life into it by putting pen to paper, by typing out the words on dusty old typewriters or sticky computer keyboards. We are but the messengers. We are the parents to fiercely independent children, and while we help shape their beginnings, we must let them develop into their own.

To truly write, we must let our stories go where they need to go, let our characters experience all they need to experience (and then some). In the end, they will always come back to us, teeming with tales of adventure and romance and intrigue, telling us to finish their story, to write it all down and let it be heard, please! We may think of ourselves as creators of worlds and kingdoms and characters and lives, but really, we don't control anything.

We simply tell the story.

That being said, go! Watch the film Stranger than Fiction. Seriously. If you understand even the tiniest nuance of writing, you will like it. And I know, the whole melding of fiction and reality, the defining labels of what makes reality real, creepy-ass goings on... but really. The power of literature, people, come on!

No comments: