Friday, September 17, 2010

Is it me?

Sometimes when writing fiction the hardest thing to leave behind is yourself. This was brought home to me this week when I was preparing to write a difficult scene in which the assistant of the main character was murdered. I'd not been looking forward to it because of the strong emotions involved, my inexperience of writing such a scene and doubts about my descriptive powers to bring the scene alive.ShadowImage by Rickydavid via Flickr

I thought I'd got the answer to the dilemma by making the main character push past the guards and run away. In doing so I was channelling the advice given by Orson Scott Card in his book Character and Viewpoint which ran through a few ways to deal with scenes like this.

However, as I tried to deal with the logistical problems introduced by the MC scarpering I realised that it wasn't him running away from the emotion, it was me. I scrapped the few thousand words I'd written, screwed my courage to the sticking place, sat down and tackled the scene. With the MC watching.

Finished, I re-read it and realised that I'd tried to duck the murder again by making him stare into the eyes of the assistant rather than see the terrible wounds caused by the blade's of the tyrant's guards. I scrapped that and did it again. It's now much better, I think, more honest and I have learned, a little, about how to write a murder scene and explore what a witness might feel. It was harrowing to write and I think some of that comes out on the page.

I've had sneaking suspicions about the shadow a writer casts on their work for some time and I'm willing to be that it can explain lots of the duller bits of lots of books. Like huge sections of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in which he roams around the countryside getting nothing done. That, I'd guess is the result of JKR not wanting things to finish and his time in the wilderness reflects that indecision about the denouement.

The light that fiction casts on the unconscious of the author was brought home most forcefully by an observation made by David Smail. He mentioned the preponderance of fiction written by middle-aged men that features young capable women who conceive an (unlikely) affection for the middle-aged male who is the main character. That might explain the popularity of that sort of fiction with middle-aged men.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this is Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy which features a middle-aged man who has a relationship with a younger woman who, conveniently, has a personality disorder that precludes any kind of emotional attachment. Wish fulfilment or strong characterisation? It's too close to call.
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Mike Keyton said...

Interesting post, Mark. Ref the middle-aged man and the younger woman popularity amongst middle aged readers, it put me in mind of John Norman's Tarnsmen of Gor series - and what that told you about his - and his readers relationship with women

markb said...

I'd not thought of those as an example but you're right that they are pretty revealing. I'm almost tempted to go back and read a few to find out what they were like.