Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What makes someone a novelist?

I also toyed with calling this post: “Novelist: nature or nurture”? Regardless, my post today is about why some people seem to be natural-born storytellers and others members of the audience.

Speaking personally, I always told stories as far back as I can remember. My parents often called it “lying”, and it wouldn’t be honest not to admit that my storytelling abilities were certainly called into use on numerous occasions in an attempt to get out of various childhood scrapes – regardless of whether the previous one worked or not. But I also did enjoy telling others – or sometimes just myself –grandiose tales of daring-do, chases and escapes, or simple fables. Most of them stayed in my head, but some of them actually were told aloud.

My mother used to tell us stories when we were little. There was Édouard and Richard, the little boys who lived in a small hamlet somewhere in Switzerland (wherever the heck that was, I didn’t know), or Eduardo and Ricardo, the Mexican children who had all kinds of adventures living in the capitol of that country as they did. Of course the stories were completely ruined (in my eyes) when needs dictated the inclusion of “and little Lynette” around the time I was nearing age three, but that was probably due to the fact that a new addition to our family was vying for mom’s attention. I do remember loving those stories told over our lunch or when we were ill, and I’m sure it has something to do with my current profession.

I also constantly had my nose in a book, even though to many of my (male) friends, it wasn’t the height of coolness.

For those of you in the Type M audience who are also ink-stained wretches like I, I’m sure you’re nodding your heads at this point about what I’ve related above. Been there, done that. Right?

Everyone enjoys being told stories whether they’re experienced orally, in print, or on a screen, large or small. However, there are only some or us called to make their living (or trying to!) in this nether world where one creates lives and happenings in your head. And for some of us, it’s almost unstoppable.

An example: I had a discussion with someone the other day that could easily have become rather heated if I hadn’t resisted some strong urges and just cut it off. As I walked away from this possible unpleasantness, a film started in my head about how things might well have gone. Dialogue was created, things happened and it was very real and vivid to me.

Now, my question to everyone is this: am I wrong to assume that only writers have this tendency to constantly make things up in their heads, or is this something that everyone does, but only we’re foolish enough to actually try to write these things down? When people come up to us, saying things like, “I’m in awe of your ability to do what you do,” are they actually meaning that they’re unable to make up novel-length stories, or is it more a matter of them not being able to imagine doing that much work?

Whether it was in my nature from birth, something in the way my brain was put together, or the fact my mother told me stories and encouraged me to read, I became a novelist. (Which was as much a surprise to me as to anyone else.) I realize now I simply have to make up stories. I seem to be wired that way and I can’t stop it. My brother heard the same stories as a child, but I can’t imagine him writing a novel. In fact I can’t imagine him reading a novel, but that’s something else all together.

Am I just different – or is it a matter of me simply thinking I’m different?

Share your stories, please, everyone! Straighten me out here. What are your experiences?


We have received a number of complaints that the sign-in process to post comments has been keeping readers from posting comments. Therefore, I have turned off the control for this. The reason it was originally turned on was because we were being swamped by spammers, often several times a day. If the spammers don’t return in droves, we will keep the commenting controls off.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick Blechta said...

There you go, folks. This is why we had controls on being able to comment.

Does anyone really want to see comments like the one above on Type M?

Thanks, Anonymous, for being a total doink.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
j welling said...

I think we're taught the value of deceit at an early age. Most of the time, it's innocent enough on the surface (tell auntie you love her) or merely self-defense (did you break this lamp ?). That is until we answer truthfully where prompted for an assumed answer (no mother, I do not love you).

Horrendous childhood of exploitative emotional encounters aside, we clearly have learned to record and review in our minds those details which seem unimportant to the rest of the world. We learn to manifest what we've seen and cast it to other purposes. We've learned to lie effectively.

All of the authors on this blog rotation can competently fashion two scenes without hesitation: one in which a man receives change from a newspaper stand when he is in a hurry for a critical meeting; and another where the man receives change from the same stand and is on the way to his office as a self-employed investor with money in the bank, a wife at home, and a girlfriend seven blocks away.

All of you can craft both scenes without telling me the expository details of either condition. You can show me the differences and let me piece the story together (which is why you all are published). I know this. I've read your stuff.

Who else but a writer - and the occasional spook - watches for this sort of thing, files it away, and can recall it for the immediate purpose?

You're a writer and you notice the small stuff. Maybe actors/actresses do this too (Can't say. Could never get her to go out with me when I was younger).

I think it works watcher -> writer. Maybe it works the other way but I'd argue not.

Great topic.

Toe Hallock said...

Dear Rick: I think Anonymous is an Anomaly. An idiot like that can probably figure out the robot system better than us so-called smart ones. We're always looking for some kind of trick. Anyway, regarding your original premise, I do believe we writers see things a little differently than the normal everyday folk. We incorporate what we observe and just naturally create scenarios in our heads. It sounds crazy, I know, but it happens all the time. Just ask my wife. Yours truly, Toe.

Rick Blechta said...

Well, Toe, I took off the spam control and we've already had two spam posts, so I really don't think we can say it's an anomaly.

Tell me everyone, should we keep spam control off, or put it back on and make everyone do a two-step when they want to leave a comment?

I certainly don't want to have to go through comments every day to remove spam, so that's not an option.

Feedback welcome -- as long as it's not spam!

Rick Blechta said...

To J Welling: thanks very much -- and thanks also for commenting regularly. I look forward to hearing from you.

j welling said...

I cannot adequately express how thankful I am for what I've learned about the business here.

I feel like a kid in the corner of the room listening to the adults and learning by it.

Rick Blechta said...

You're too kind.

But to make a point, we're all in this together. My feeling is, if I can help someone else not fall in the holes I have simply by pointing them out, then I've done a good day's work.

And don't think I haven't learned a lot here from everyone else's posts.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Toe Hallock said...

You're right. Is it okay for me to admit being wrong on this issue? It's up to me to be smarter when trying to log on. Thanks for being so patient with my nonsense. Yours truly, Toe.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick Blechta said...

Okay, Toe, our experiment in Open Sharing of Comments in the Age of Spam has been concluded with the bad guys winning yet again.

To everyone, I have reluctantly put the controls back on and hopefully the spammers will go off and find easier targets. To them: thanks for nothing! Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Toe Hallock said...

Dear Rick: Back to the really important premise of your comments whether or not writers interpret the world in a way different from the muggles. Does everyone see shades of color the same? I believe writers observe what's happening around them and based on some strange quirk of mind manage to create scenarios in our heads. I am almost certain children do this naturally during their formative years in order to make sense of this strange new place in which they find themselves. Maybe us writers just never totally grew up and still view life as though it promises any number of possiblities.

Rick Blechta said...

Toe, I think you may have hit the nail on the head.

I taught school for 23 years (crowd control with a beat, i.e. instrumental music) and I loved taking my kids down to the primary classrooms and playing what we called "instant concerts". The little ones were always so enthralled, enthusiastic and appreciative. One time, the teacher of a Grade 1 class (this being in Canada where it's called "Grade 1", not "1st Grade") had them work on stories about our little concert or the instruments.

I was amazed and delighted with what those 6-year-olds came up with.

My wife also has flute students as young as 4, and those kids, too, are receptive, up for anything and their imaginations are boundless. Watching them get older (she's had students she's taught for 10 years and more), you can see that fresh way of looking at life slowly leave them. A cynic might say that it's beaten out of them.

Maybe we writers never completely give up the childish wonder of looking at the world and seeing other possibilities.

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