Sunday, July 25, 2010

Letters to a Young, Middle-Aged, or Geezer Writer, XIX

You might say, dear ones, that doubt is a vote of no confidence in the future; you doubt that some promised event will take place, that some promised behavior or intent will be faithfully acted upon.  You may also doubt that a particular report of behavior or activity is accurate.  Being writers encompassing the entire age range, you have had your moments in which you have no faith that the nuance and acuity of something you have written will be understood and, accordingly, appreciated.

If asked, you could fill an entire university Blue Book with doubtful things, beginning your litany with the thing about which you are the most cynical, say a politician keeping his or her promise, fueled by the righteous anger that awareness brings, filling page after page, pausing only briefly when the first warning bell signifying fifteen minutes of time left for the exam, then picking up pace again as new doubts arrive, perhaps even doubting you will be able to get in all your doubts within the Blue Books you have with you.

To say that you have few doubts causes those about you to think you an incredible optimist, a naif, perhaps a relic from one of your characters.  And in fact, as you grow and your experiences with such things as relationships expands, you begin to see how the behavior of those about you has undergone subtle change from your early sense of idealism to more of a wariness, a wait-and-see approach.  You are, for example, less likely to judge a contemporary for having sold out and more likely to think such things as adjusted to the marketplace, as though your burgeoning experiences were informed by MBA language and theory.  Similarly, you may come to regret a friend's concepts of textuality after reading a draft of that person's novel in progress.  I'll have to ask you to trust me on this, but I don't think it a good plan to discuss a writer friend's text apparatus, that is, if you wish to remain friends.

And you will have perhaps come to the place in your career where you have doubts about your characters.  Will they remain content to follow your direction, looking upon you as a Goddard or Scorsese, or will they, as you were wont to do yourself, rebel against the authority figure that is you?  By now, you will have become somewhat of a control freak in this regard, doubting the character's trustworthiness, coming down hard with the heavy hand of authorial power.  You might have even threatened them and they, in their turn, threatened you back, reminding you that when kids are old enough to fly the coop, they may chose not to return under any circumstances.

What would happen, I wonder, if you are fortunate enough to have a series going and your characters decide to stay away, refusing to bring you information?  You could try guilt as in you never call, you never write.  Or, you never confide in me any more.

I understand that it is somewhere between sophistry and conceit to put you in a parent-child relationship with your characters, but I ask you to understand that you have perhaps been spending too much time with your iPod and computer, causing a rift of resentment.  I may be pushing too hard at this point, making it easy for you to shrug off my concerns, but in all truth, I doubt that you will pay me much heed.

It is one thing to think of your characters as individuals you meet while traveling, individuals who are so sure of never seeing you again that they will open up their secret selves to you and reveal secrets they reveal only to strangers, giving you remarkable plot lines and materials for devious constructions, but consider this:  Suppose they are making up these stories; suppose they are all fabrications.  You will have been taken in, your trust in your characters severely compromised.  And for what?  Some improbable concatenation of events that make it clear to everyone but you that you have been recording the lies and fantasies of characters as opposed to listening to them closely in order to find out things more remarkable than designer plots.  By now, you'll have all had experience with listening to young persons inventing excuses for not doing what was expected of them while at the same time doing precisely what they wished to do.   After they have told you their whoppers, smile at them and say, okay, now why don't you tell me what really happened.  You will not be so likely to be written off as a text manipulator and you will gain some street credibility (anti-doubt, you see) for being able to get at the heart of the text, the things your characters truly intend in their truest of hearts.

If you allow them to have hearts, they will return to you time after time, bringing you goodies for the holidays that far outstrip a gaudy plot that had been outsourced to India.

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