|PICTURED: NOT a creepy author's house. no sir.|
How much of yourself do you put into your projects? I don't mean your favorite influencers or genres, I mean yourself, your experiences, your psyche.
I had this thought a while back whilst neck deep in a collection of genre fiction; So much of the material, while strong in its own right, felt derivative. There were stories wherein you could taste the different flavors, you could distinguish between the different ingredients of the cake (A dash of Firefly here, a drop of Dr. Who there...) and, while entertaining, and technically sound, I couldn't shake that feeling that I'd been here before. It was an entertaining read, I'd go so far as to say it left me feeling pretty great, it was a delicious chocolate cheesecake, but it didn't linger, it was empty calories. There's not a thing wrong with empty calories, don't get me wrong, but...
After one story, in particular, the author's bio really struck me, and I thought, 'This person sounds ridiculously interesting. Yet their story didn't really carry any of that sense of self."
Highbrow pontification or crackpot philosophy? Maybe. Let me plead my case;
Stephen King - do you think he gives people the heebie-jeebies and lives in a creepy old haunted house in a small New England town to perpetuate the myth behind the storyteller? Or do you think he writes the material he does BECAUSE he's the sort of guy who gives people the heebie-jeebies and would want to live in a creepy old haunted house in a small New England town? He has no image or celebrity status to uphold, he's a damn author, not Marylin Manson. Evidence persists that as long as you buy his books, he doesn't give a rat's ass what you think of him.
Edgar Allen Poe - Have you ever seen a picture of this guy wherein he doesn't look other-worldly or nebulous? He wrestled with inner demons; paranoia, addiction, probably undiagnosed mental illness for his entire life, and he wrote disturbing inner monologues that have yet to be matched. Seriously. People have tried, and it's always forced, ridiculous, or completely over the top. Poe's works of fear, paranoia, and revenge were so goddamn effective because they came from some dark place in him, they were, they felt, real.
Robert E Howard - Howard was a paradoxical figure, an able-bodied Texas laborer, bare-knuckle boxer, adventurer, traveler, and yet, outsider, intellectual, and scholar. His most popular character was Conan. He was a detached loner who left the barbaric, insular world he knew at 15 years old, an attempt to satiate his own wanderlust and find a place. Conan never did, he wandered every corner of the Hyborian Age and mused on the pratfalls and quirks of 'civilization', much like Howard himself did. Neither of them ever found their place. Indeed, Conan's ennui as king of the most powerful nation of the civilized age could have been seen as Howard's own raging dissatisfaction with life. It came from his heart, ultimately evidenced by his dissatisfaction, depression, and an overwhelming sense of loss causing him to end it. Who's to say, given the chance, that Conan wouldn't have eventually fallen on his own sword.
JRR Tolkien - Here was a man obsessed with linguistics, genealogy, mythology, and ancient history; his impetus for Lord of the Rings was in the worldbuilding and the story told is secondary to the grand canvas on which it takes place. He cared more for the languages and the cultures that cultivated these languages than he did about Frodo and the ring. He was our first fantasy anthropologist. If you've ever gone beyond the core trilogy, you'll know how deeply his fascination with mythology and legend goes, and how very minuscule his greatest work is in the grander tapestry he'd woven. Tolkien detractors have often derided Lord of the Rings for being dry and stuffy or full of description (it isn't, but it IS full of detail). I ask you this: What would you expect from an Oxford Professor of Anglo-Saxon known for colorful lectures on Beowulf?
Am I getting my point across at all here? (probably not) Are this just ramblings? (yeah, most likely)
As writers, or more specifically, as GENRE writers, we all want to tell a story. And for many of us, that's more than enough. For many readers, that's also more than enough. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I'd like you to think back to those stories that really blew you away, those novels you couldn't put down, those movies you watched over and over, not just because they were deeply layered or cerebral, or literal masterworks, but you loved them. They could have been none of those things, they could have been all, but I guarantee you this; they were personal.
Here's an exercise, maybe when you're sitting down with a new concept, staring at Harmon's story circle, or Campbell's Hero Myth, or Save the Cat, or whatever; Think about your theme. Think about questions you might want to ask the reader. Think about how you would answer them. Put a bit of your own blood into your characters, maybe they share your aspirations, maybe they share your philosophies, or your injuries, or your insecurities. Write from a real place. Readers can tell.
Look, far be it for me (unpublished as I am) to tell YOU how to write a story (I've said it before, this is not an advice blog), but why bother if it's not a concept you're passionate about, if it's not a story that you'd like to tell in your voice. I love Neuromancer, and while I'd be flattered to have Virtual Machines compared to Gibson, I didn't set out to write "Steve T Power's Neuromancer". I also know It'll never be compared to Gibson. Ever. I also know that the themes interest me, my main protagonist inherits some of my own strengths, weaknesses, and philosophy, and while that doesn't make him easier to write (He's still an enigmatic bastard), it certainly makes him feel more real to me. I'm assuming that will show in the finished product. I could be totally out to lunch.
What day is it? What YEAR?
Until next time,