One Fiction Writer’s Manifesto
noun\ˌma-nə-ˈfes-(ˌ)tō\ : a written statement that describes the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group.
I gathered these anecdotes from across the blogosphere and noted some points worth keeping from podcasts through the years. I liken this collection of statements to the craft of writing and the writing process, as well as a reference to answer that perpetual question in the writer’s mind: why do I write and for whom do I write?
Writing fiction as a way of introducing moral grounds and convictions will always reveal itself in the tone, language, and characterization of any story plot. Isn’t it like us to think about situations that are thorny, tangled, all meant to provoke a deeper understanding of a character’s behavior that hits our darkest sensibilities? We ponder the questions of how, why, and what characters do or don’t do to each other and as such, we are urged to question our own motivations.
Books we read will hopefully become memorable enough to change us and transform our ways of knowing. Their influence will leave ripples under our skin that we can detect when we’re under the weight of discerning our stand on subjects and matters. Good writing is dangerous and requires risk. This must not be taken for granted. John F. Kennedy once said: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.” We have an opportunity, as we write, to develop subject matter that might make people uncomfortable, yet with the slightest stroke of our words are we able to have them recognize something they didn’t know about themselves.
I have moved from several places across California that I have at one time or another called home; but even now as a parent to three precious souls, I find that although I am not physically moving between residences, I am transcending through seasons of my life. This is always good material as a fiction writer because it broadens the scope of memory, of reinvention, and of reflection. Our voices are distinct depending on what stage in life we find ourselves.
We can look back to where we were as writers when we began to take our work seriously, and we can discover that the content of what we wrote about is not, for the most part, what we write about in the present. I sure hope it wouldn’t be. Dislocation for me has always been a way to wipe the slate clean and to renew, and to start over intentionally and determined to settle in where I currently find myself.
About the Writing Process:
Yohji Yamamoto said: “Start copying what you love.” Although he is in the fashion design business, it still has relevance for the fiction writer, doesn’t it? Those we read influence us enough that we unconsciously borrow from them. Then we use a story of theirs to create a new one of our own, as their art reminds us of what we have gestating in our arsenal of story, characterization, and theme, bending the lines to form our own contours and sculpt words of our own into a new world of imagination and description.
We plow over a story to help us with our own, and in the process, we are paying homage to that author, that influence who has awakened the nerve in us. It isn’t a surprise then that we use elements which have been oiled through the ages. “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Ideas may exhaust themselves, and we may feel limited with little inventory, but this may be just what we need to fuel the embers of the creative process when it seems to dwindle. It is a very vulnerable place to find ourselves in, this drought. It is like flying out of a plane, I suppose, without a parachute. There is nothing in the vast open space, no string to pull that will ground us in something so that we become able to create something out of nothing.
At moments like these, I tend to prime the pump, so to speak, by reading. I read what draws my interest during this season, albeit not everything evokes inspiration. But when a gem surfaces from the murky water, it becomes so recognizable that it is impossible to ignore. That is when we must stop what we are doing in order to mine, to glean, and to create.
Over and over the writing repertoire takes shape. Our stories scratch at the halls of our thoughts like a scared little animal that needs to be fed. Enduringly long it seems, the duration from thought to materialization, and when finally, we are drafting our work, again and again, we can see what elements of the tale are failing, and we can understand it consequently to move on to another revision. Knowing the flaws of our writing is not always detectable at first glance, thus we retire the animal for some time, and return to feed it again, to see it with a new lens and to grab a hold of it with both hands, with forceful arms. At that point, I am ready to pursue it and to deepen the discovery of the world of my characters.
It doesn’t have to be difficult, or complex. I think about how God, in under a page, described Adam and Eve in the Old Testament. There, in that short space, we read how they came to be from dust and bone, what became of them, how they fell, and ultimately, what fruit they bore. Likewise, I am able to unearth my own writing, to loosen its dirt and dust with the brush of my pen, to draw from my faith in the scriptures as inspiration for something worth telling now after years as my creative process undergoes a renaissance.
About Fictionalizing Real People:
I was a very timid child, a very solitary individual with time spent organizing and collecting, reading and drawing, creating. These were my talents and gifts, very solitary in nature, and now as an adult, I realize how much this is true of many creative people. I was under the impression that I was alone when in fact, I was not. I tended to be most comfortable as an observer of people, a witness to the occasion, an embodiment of circumstance and as a child, I was not brave enough to express myself openly to others. So, I used art and creativity to make up for those inadequacies, those deficiencies. Now, as an adult writer, my art and creativity seem to have invited trouble from others when at times they may read my work and say, This sounds a lot like me and I don’t like it. It is a very risky thing to do, to write in this way, to develop something that is too close to the heart or to history, too close to the family tree or the social circle, but no matter how uncomfortable it may be to those that may see themselves in our art, for better or worse, we need to be ready to take the risk.
Personally, the protagonists in my short stories share much of the same experiences I do. However, when the person I characterize is made-over, they’re no longer that person anymore. They become a fiction. That is to say, they are not the character they presume they are in my story. To turn anything, real or imagined, into a fiction requires a careful treatment, a careful comb-through. The one wielding the pen decides if a person will inspire them to write a fictional narrative, a constructed, disguised, or improved depiction of who they are.
And likewise, when someone we know may recognize themselves in a story we write, it may be so alarming that they can’t see beyond themselves. Some may call this vanity. And perhaps it is. But that is not the problem of the writer, but of the fictionalized. The fictionalized may look at the story with tunnel vision and say, It’s me, it is me! But this exclamation is not lodged in gratitude, but rather in narcissism.
We choose with precision what we will utilize as material for our stories. Not everyone or everything that is true in our lives will glaze the pages of our stories. Characters we develop may be compositions of many people or could be so far removed from personal contact. They could be based on a headline we read in our news feeds for that matter.
I’ve heard the common question posed to writers of fiction: Is the story autobiographical? This is not truly what matters in the grand scheme of fiction writing. Personally, I would ask the writer how the work is significant, rather than whether or not she lived a certain life event or if she knew a person like the one who is found in the story. What matters is the entire canvas, the whole depiction and whether or not it spoke to the reader and provoked a change in them.
As writers, we have used actual people and their circumstances to inspire our work and to frame our stories. Countless writers have done this throughout the course of their writing careers, and it makes for very compelling characters found in stories that go deeply into the layers of lives we can certainly identify with.
I moved this blog to a self-hosted URL after a disastrous attempt by relatives to censor my writing. They have since made my life a checkerboard. O well, the writing must go on. As I continue to write my thoughts, they serve as a deep consolation to me. As someone once said: “When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.”
And this example is in reference to a work of non-fiction, but what about works of fiction?
Someone once said that Helen Keller’s larger accomplishments were in challenging literalists who equated creativity with deception. What, she asks, are the limits to inspiration? “Do we know only what we see, or do we see what we somehow already know?”
Likewise, another writer once argued that the self can often be too narrow a subject to utilize in our writing. When we write about what we don’t know, then our world expands, and we ultimately see what’s beneath our consciousness. When we write about what stems from the imagination, we enter a doorway of creativity. We go beyond what we think we can accomplish, and that is what we call fiction.
Tell me what you’re writing these days? I’m really curious about what you write. Is it fiction, personal memoir? Or is it poetry? Is it something altogether different?