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Discussing: Why do we write?

Why do we write?

All right, folks: pv requested a discussion, but didn't set up a new thread, so come on over to my place.  Scone?  Tea?  Uisge bheatha?  (The Dwarves have this still . . . .)

Basically, I write because it's the only way I can get to certain places, lacking a transdimensional time machine (with star travel capacities, but that's another universe).  And I think I'm unusual in the fanfic line because I want to hang out in a milieu I find attractive rather than with one or more specific characters.

I started with character-centered fanfic, of course, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...and a few other galaxies my friends and I crossed over to.  Great fun at the time, but immensely painful to go back and read now.  (I'm glad there's only one copy of the stuff, handwritten, and in my personal possession.  There are advantages to having been a fledgling writer in the days before word processors and the internet.)

But since I cared about getting things right, I tended to the craft of writing and anthropology . . . and over time, I found fiction centered around other peoples' characters had a bunch of technical problems.  To write about the things I thought were important, I generally had to distort the borrowed characters (who had their own concerns) or place them in rather implausible situations; to be true to the characters, I had to mute my own voice.  Steering between this Scylla and Charybdis got to be so much work that I gradually weaned my principal fiction universe (which is in the sci fi genre) from its fanfic roots.  Setting up your own pocket universe is a lot of work, but immensely liberating.

On another angle, I write to get inside other peoples' heads.  I want to understand people--that's why I'm an anthropologist--and fiction lets you "walk a mile in their moccasins" . . . or at least pretend that you can.  Smile  While a lot of fanfic works to bring the characters closer to the author, by recasting their thoughts and actions in more modern terms, I set out to get closer to them.  (If you know another language reasonably well, you know some things don't translate, or at least not satisfactorily--you have to learn that different view of the world for a proper appreciation.)  As I got better at it, I found that I wasn't enjoying climbing inside the heads of my fictional "friends" as much as I used to: it felt too much like voyeurism, or stalking.

I'm not saying that's what it is, or that people who enjoy doing this have some kind of problem!  But I get to levels of clinical analysis--necessary for true craftsmanship, I feel--that I find unsettling when directed at people (who aren't enemies) rather than things.  Tolkien's work is full of warnings about people who lose their way through obsessing on other peoples' creations--"too much learning hath made thee mad."

Anyway, now I'm more interested in the cultures than the individuals, the world Tolkien created rather than specific people.  What is it like to be a Dwarf--any Dwarf, not just Gimli?  (The new chapter of my story explores this.)  I feel on safer ground nitpicking my own creations--they are, after all, various reflections of myself or my view of the world, and it's probably a good thing to think deeply about how you approach and present yourself to the world.  Of course, you can get in trouble obsessing on your own creations in Arda, too!  Laugh out loud  Perhaps it's a good thing that I can't spend too much time there.

What about the rest of you?



Re: Why do we write?

Thank you, Adaneth! I wasn't sure where to start it, as I'm new to the site!

I find that when I write, I'm sometimes surprised at the things that come out - it's almost as if someone else is writing! Have you felt that?



Re: Why do we write?

Oh, yes--all the time.  I've come to see that as a sign that things are going well, because the characters are taking on a life of their own.  Of course, what it actually means is that I've tapped into that level of creativity and intuition below conscious thought, but that's a good thing, too.  Smile  I find that most of my writing friends and I often get our best ideas in mild altered states of consciousness: when we're falling asleep or waking up (keep notepad by bed--you probably won't remember them in the morning), in the shower, long-distance driving.  I also get a "blip" of creativity when I've been working too hard, and my brain wants to slip off elsewhere for a short vacation, but if I work too hard for too long, it all goes flat.  I'm riding the edge of one of those curls now.

I find the trick is to ride what's coming.  Sometimes you should let it take you where it will, and worry about reconciling it with your original plan later; sometimes you can blend the two together organically as you go.  I usually get the inspirations down as soon as I can, without worrying about making them pretty and leaving gaps where things are blank--there's an immediacy and force to the stuff that you can spoil by overworking it later, and it's good to have the raw material to remind you of how it felt.  Then I like to let them season and mature for a bit, to make sure they still look like good stuff after the first glamour has faded.  Some of the stuff gets tossed; some gets tweaked; some gets seriously reworked; and some of it goes in the hoard of shiny bits I haven't figured out what to do with yet.

But there are about as many ways to write as there are writers.  There are a lot of good ones here--read what they've written, think about why you find it moving (and read other peoples' comments pro and con, to see what works for them), and try various things yourself, to see what will work for you.  The important thing is to find your own voice...even if what it says isn't what you expected.



Re: Why do we write?

Yes, the important thing is to find your voice, and there are many different narrative voices fiction. There are the intellectual voices which use an extensive vocabulary and display their knowledge of the world. There are the angsty voices that scream in emotional turmoil. There are the moralistic voices that try to convey a message to the world. There are the chucklers and the gigglers. And there are the quiet voices who don't thrust themselves at you and don't come between you and the story. This last variety is the kind I respect most.

As a writer, do you experiment with different narrative voices, or do you have a particular style that you're comfortable with?



Re: Why do we write?

I've experimented, but I think I'm at the point where I've settled into a dominant style (in life as in writing) that plays to my strengths.  I enjoy humor a lot, but I can't write it--or at least not mainstream humor.  I jotted down some notes the other day for a tongue-in-cheek piece that will be something like a Fifth Age paleoanthropology paper discussing the taxonomic and evolutionary relationships of various fossil specimens (Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, Orc), but I expect it will be too esoteric for most people.  A fun parody for me to write, though.

I see the world as a very complex place, full of tension and conflict, and I like to explore how attempts to mediate those succeed or fail: how do people make things better, or how do they fall apart, and how might you recover from the latter?  Tolkien set up this world with an inherent slide into "degeneration": beauty fades, the other speaking peoples dwindle...the world as "Morgoth's Ring."  I'm interested in resistance to that, fighting the long defeat (although I prefer to focus on victories, however temporary) and cherishing such beauties as remain.  As an anthropologist, I can't help but love the idea of other sentient peoples, and wondering how humans would interact with them.  But different strategies and tactics can lead to success, and I write to explore those options.  I try to keep the angst and moralizing in my characters' mouths.



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