Saturday, July 10, 2010

Letter to a Young, Middle-Aged, or Geezer Writer viii

A truly vital and informative factor in our daily writing lives often goes unrecognized, much like the letter gone missing but yet in plain sight within Edgar Allen Poe's famed short story.  The factor of which I write directly informs the behavior between and among characters; while we are aware of it and using it, this factor also informs our social, political, and financial lives.  Some would argue that this factor plays an undeniable role in our romantic life.

More to the point, this factor plays an important role in everything we write, how that writing is read by others, and what the consequences mean to us.

By now you will have realized what the factor is, particularly those among you who have reached geezerhood, which allows you a greater sampling of human interaction from which to draw example.  The factor's very strength and reach are giveaways.  Power is like that.  What F. Scott Fitzgerald said about money is directly applicable to power.  Individuals who are born to it have grown up aware of how it begins early in life, drawing lines, separating those who have it from those who, however much money they might have, from those who eat at the second table, sit in the upper balcony, wait for the cheaper paperback edition to appear.

In its most basic form, power is the ability to do and say what one feels like doing or saying with the complete expectation that as many others as reasonable will accept this position as being so.  In varying degrees, individuals have power to exert over us, what they say is said with the expectation of our obedience.  The dog's owner is thus able to tell a dog to sit or to stop a particular action with the expectation of the dog's obedience.  An acquisitions editor holds a kind of power over incoming manuscripts, a parent has power over children until the children are--or deem themselves--grown up.  Curious, interesting, often insightful uses and shifts of power inhere in sexual relationships, where in a deeply personal sense a pair of lovers willingly exchange and/or abdicate roles of power, each to the other.

Fiction commonly is the armature about which power is wound, and in another sense, a writer whose  lucubrations are necessary because of a daytime job is at the whim of his employer, hopeful of the time where no "outside" work is necessary.

Writing has a measure of power over you as well, making it a splendid idea to determine the source of it, the better to understand the writing self various writing coaches, instructors, and editors are telling all of us they need to get a grip on.  As a hint, I, as a teacher and editor, have used this very line of suggestion on numerous occasions over the years, often with good results but most certainly with good results when the doing has caused me to get a better grip on my own writing self.

You will reach a point where you become aware of exerting your use of power over your created characters, in some perverse way gratified when they begin to sense they are dimensional enough to rebel against your authority, in the process doing things you had not intended.  There is this lovely trope to think of when the behavior of your characters perplexes you:  Your parents wanted better for you than they had, thus their approach to your education.  Your characters are trying to get you away from your lucubrations, and wouldn't that be fun?

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