Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Writing and Emotional Honesty

When I wrote stories for my college fiction-writing classes, I was always told that my characters were being too dramatic for the situation. This always bothered me because people react differently to different things, and I honestly thought that my characters' reactions were on the level of how I would react to the same situations. But looking back at my stories now, I understand what people meant. In one of my stories, a character expresses a desire to throw a dish at her mom while they're arguing. Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this desire, but it was wrong in this case because it didn't fit the situation. We see as the story moves along that she really isn't angry enough about the problem to want to throw something. The character also has a good relationship with her mom and does not have anything else in her life that's really upsetting her, so it isn't logical for her to have this desire.

I know why I made mistakes like this. I was having a really bad time in college when I wrote these stories, and I was so used to being upset about everything that was going on at school that I saw the desire to throw a dish at someone as a normal reaction to not being understood. I didn't remember what it was like not to feel that way. I don't agree with the term "matching," when it comes to people's reactions matching the situation, because everyone has different reactions to things. But I understand that it's important to make sure a character's reactions match their individual situation, and that's what I didn't always do in my college stories.

It's easier to see clearly now that I feel better, but feeling better is not the solution to the writing issue. I'm sure there will be other times in my life when I'm not feeling well, and I will never stop writing. I will never wait until I've "taken care" of my personal issues before I try to write my next novel. The real problem here was not the fact that my character wanted to throw a dish at someone when it didn't fit the story - it was that I wrote about a character who would not normally want to throw things in anger and I didn't push her to her limit. My professor said that my stories had way too much psychological drama and she wanted me to write a much simpler story, which is what I did. That dinner plate line wasn't just a random oversight - it was a subtle trace of what I desperately needed to write about. The next story I wrote was about someone who had suffered a lot of abuse at home until they finally managed to run away. It wasn't what my professor had asked me to do, but it was what I really needed to write at the time.

And that's how I plan to go forward from here. Rather than making a conscious effort to tone down my characters' reactions when I really want them to react a certain way, I should increase the intensity of the situation until it's believable that they would react the way the they do.  In spite of what I've been taught, I am not going to "deal with" my own emotions separately and not let them interfere with my writing - I am going to acknowledge my emotions and think about what kind of story I really want to write. If I want to write about characters throwing dishes at each other, I just have to create a situation that calls for it.

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