Sunday, February 10, 2013


The single most helpful information a writer needs when embarking on a new project is the answer to the question "Who are you?"

For a number of your earlier years spent learning the basics of the craft, you believed the mere fact of considering yourself a writer was sufficient cause to take on another project.  This might have had something to do with having seen too many Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies of the "Let's put on a show in the garage" theme.  More probable, you gave no thought to the matter, in metaphor wading in without testing the water; pulling the cork out of the bottle, then throwing it away; imagining who the publisher would be even before the work was completed.

There was the idea, buzzing about like a radio-controlled model airplane.  Perhaps even one or two characters had stopped by to audition for staring roles.  There was, however, no you, no governing force, no awareness of the source of the idea nor from whence came the energy.  Was it revenge?  Was it a desire to take down some individual or institution that you felt had gone too far (this time or any time)?  Were you approaching the idea to right a perceived wrong?  Alas, again we return to one of two operant memes.  You were on your way to becoming a writer, which should, after all, stand for justification, shouldn't"t it?  (No, it shouldn't.)

The other accepted response had you fresh from reading something that disappointed you or angered you for having wasted your time and expectations, thus you would satirize it.  Disclosure:  you had no full idea what satire was at the time other than to make fun of something you didn't like.

Even now, in sympathetic retrospect, you can see some justification to both these approaches in what you prefer to think of as your close-but-no-cigar days.  But you do not justify a story.  You do not argue it into place any more than you give it any kind of dimension by more or less setting it down in an expanded outline form.  You need to get inside it, understand what it wants from you, then dramatize it, removing the feeble and unnecessary lines of dialogue and the details of equal irrelevance.

Who you are is the attitudes you have to the subject matter, to the material as it has effect on you in real life, the discovery you make from experiencing it, and the negotiated settlement you see your characters achieving after they have spent some time away from you, in another metaphorical dimension of the jury room.

You have to be willing to let them--the characters--interact if the work is fiction.  You must back off to allow conflicting ideas to work their ways on each other if the material is nonfiction.  If the material is intended as autobiographical, you must be aware of the differences between what happened in actuality and what outcomes you had hoped in fantasy, then be willing to switch the medium from autobiography to fiction if the outcome is too favorable and too fantastic.

Are you producing revisionist history or the fiction of discovery and illustration?  Who, indeed, are you?

A portion of who you are is rooted in your early belief in the written word. For some considerable time, you asked little more than event from the words you read, whether they were about real things or characters you understood to be invented.  Words and the sentences they formed bore tangible facts.  No nuances, no shades.  You lived in a world, where your expectations and perceptions were literal.  What you saw was what you got, except that such a calculus was never quite enough.

You wanted more than literal.

You wanted more than mere black or white or true or false or yes or no.

You wanted story.

And so, for the next several years, again in metaphor, you consulted the literary equivalent of recipe books, which is to say books on writing, the very first of which wasWriting Magazine Fiction,which had to be worthwhile, didn't it, because it was published by a man who taught courses in professional writing at a university.  This is somewhat of an irony, a quality inherent in many stories, because your most recently published book contained a number of things you'd learned from teaching courses in professional writing at a university.  That is, of course, another story.

Not long after encountering that book and attempting to integrate its vision and information, you were led to believe that university life was not the best prospect for you, rather that you'd do well to consider an institution in Los Angeles called the Frank Wiggins Trade School, where you could pursue a path whereby you would learn to operate typesetting machines such as the Linotype, the monotype, and the Ludlow headline casting machine.

In a real sense, the vision you were led to believe was not a good prospect for you and the vision you were led to believe was more apt were distractions or diversions, parts of other stories.  And thus you learned a first basic, about story not being linear.  That, too, is another story.

And so you have lived with, considered, written, edited, and yes, taught as well, one story after another for long enough to understand how distraction and diversion are vital elements in your life, in the life of the Real World, and in the shimmering and expanding world of story.

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