Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Look! Look! I've got a writing revelation!

I love traveling but I have not traveled much. A dragon flying tends to bring unwanted attention. Since there are not planes with dragon size seats I had to use the “look human AND sane” old trick in order to get to one. Destination: Mazunte. It’s a nearly virgin beach about an hour drive from Huatulco. My travelling companion was a real globe trekker. 

Since she had seen several marvels of the world, she didn’t look half amazed of the sights as I did. She was amazed though at how I reacted to everything I saw. I spent most of the time pointing my finger everywhere and urging her to take a picture. It was always: “Look! Look at that! Take a picture!”

She took a picture of a dolphin and I made her take a picture of a buzzard. She took a picture of a beautiful sunrise and I asked her to take a picture of a stone white of seagull droppings. Yes, our levels of amazement were different, no doubt. I thought every single thing was awesome and worth the picture, including a picture of her running with a cloud of mosquitoes around her head. (Mosquitoes are not interested in dragon’s blood, btw.)

What does anything of this have to do with writing? You may wonder. Ever since I got the idea to write a story of publishable quality, I set myself on the quest of learning everything I could about writing. During this quest, I’ve experienced the same feeling than when I travelled to Mazunte. I feel everybody knows things I’m only starting to discover.

This has happened to me:
“Look! Look at this! Characterization, isn’t that a wonder?”
“Hum, I’ve seen that before.”
Also this:
“Geez, didn’t think dialogue tags were so bad!”
“Oh, don’t worry too much about it.” And “Yes, it’s huge, worry about it, A LOT!” (At the same time from different people.)

Honestly, the more I learn the more I am aware of the whole bunch I still ignore. Some writer’s maxims seem like inside jokes to me. Everyone seems to get it except for me.

“Write what you know.” – Well, if I write only about what I know I wouldn’t be writing a story about Indians and secrets societies.
“Writers lie to tell the truth” – Say what?
“Writing is an act of courage” – Oh, you bet! But something tells me this is not referring to the way I’m getting it.

Some light came from Jeff Hargett and his Sunday Surfing (which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone who, like me, is trying to figure out an unknown business in a foreign language). He posted a link to free on-line courses and there I found this Short Story Course at the MIT.

The truth is you really have to be Sherlock Holmes and have some average knowledge on the matter to fully understand the Lecture Notes without the teacher. For a novice like me, some things made very little sense. However, I found some important revelations as the explanations to the “inside jokes”. I share them with you aware I might be pointing out at the white rock covered in seagull droppings, but it still amazes me as if it were the sunrise.

“Write what you know” is one of the great maxims of the field, but we have to define what that really means.  You cannot limit yourself to writing ONLY about characters just like you. 
(Otherwise, you could only write your own gender, age range, ethnicity, and this would be rather limiting.)
So what does it mean to know, and what do you know?
- physical truth
(This is what you know from physical experience—how a place looks, smells, what scratchy wool or zero degrees feels like on your skin)
- emotional truth
(This is the central truth for a writer, the emotional reality of the “now” moment which the reader MUST accept.  If the reader does not believe that moment of revelation/change, then the reader will not accept any part of the story.)

Writers lie to tell the truth – emotional truth lies in the cloak of fiction.
Fiction, that is, the act of embedding emotional truth in situation that never happened, is the way we find the courage to reveal that truth.

Writing is an act of courage.
 It takes courage to express emotional truth.  It means that you have to know yourself and be willing to put the depths of emotional reality out there where anyone can read it.  Fiction is what keeps us safe, what lets us express and the audience experience that truth.
Psychologists say that people have experienced the full range of emotion by the age of six. 
You must trust your own emotional experience and believe that you have adequate understanding and memory in order to have something to say.  
You need the courage first to be honest about your own emotional reality/experience, and then to express it.  Honesty is hard because every character we write comes from us, the villains as well as the heroes.  And we owe the villains as much as we owe the heroes, we must respect and understand their humanity, their motivations, and their desires.  Which means that we have to be honest about our own less-than-admirable desires, actions, etc.

 "Look, look! Now I feel a bit more "In" than before. That's amazingly encouraging, isn't it?" 


  1. Oh-- this speaks to my little ignorant writer's heart. I can't tell you how much craft-reading, blog-reading and whatever else I can get my grubby hands on, I have done trying to learn the craft of writing. The more I learn, the less I know and the more I realize that at 48 my capacity for retention of all this vital information is limited. AUGH! I'm glad I'm not alone in the quest for writing truth!

  2. It's good to know you're with me, hehe. Ever felt like you found something new, you dig further and it's like one of those magician's handkerchiefs? You pull a tip and you find out it wasn't one but dozens of handkerchiefs tied, each bringing up a new question.

    1. Why yes, yes I have felt that way. Almost always. And then I have a short panic attack because I think what everyone knows I'll never grasp. Not that I'm insecure or anything...

    2. It's decided, I'm going to adopt you as my sister in arms. Panic attack? pretty much like Humphrey bear, with that same thought. "I'll never learn it all!". We shall make an Order. :)

  3. I've appreciated your recent visits to my place lately, so first of all, thanks for that!

    "Writing what you know" used to be a crutch for me, now it's so much more fun to write about things I don't know (forces research). Now that I'm 30, writing MG is easier for some reason. Go fig, right? Your post is timely and appreciated! :)

    1. Pleasure is mine David. I do enjoy your writing.

      And yes, Research can be quite an adventure in itself. I've spent a month researching for my WiP. Now I think I've got information for 4 other stories. I just hope I can put one together with all this. :)

  4. Well, I can write about dragons because I know a mighty fine one, all noble and majestic in wit and wisdom. We should always embrace the joy of revelation and the accumulation of knowledge. Besides, some things are best viewed through eyes of wonder and awe. And thanks for sneaking in that mention of my Sunday Surfing posts. I'm glad people are finding helpful things through them. That's what they're for.

  5. You do? Why haven't you introduced that other dragon to me yet? Hahaha. ;) Sunday Surfing has become my school. Hmm, will that make you the Principal?

  6. And the more you learn, the less you'll realize you know! Wait, that sounds discouraging. It means you'll be pushed to learn even more.
    Great photos!
    And I'm contemplating writing a story about dragons with another author. Maybe I should come to you for tips?

    1. It actually sounds encouraging. It makes me see I'm not alone in this permanent feeling of ignorance. :) True I took a course to lose the fear to ridicule, but sometimes the old ghost rears its head. Thanks for commenting. Oh, yes, you can ask me about dragons. Just as men have thousands of stories about their origin and such, so we have. ;)

  7. Remember, writing is a lot about guidelines. No rules are completely set in stone. Even when you think you are, you'll find someone else breaking the rules and doing it very well.

    1. Yes, Cherie, I take all advice with a grain of salt by now. Sometimes I feel like kicking everything out and just write. But my painter teacher told me something. In order to break the rules, you first have to learn them, and then, you have to know why are you breaking them. Or may be I'm just an obsessive knowledge hunter (that I am). Thanks for visiting :D