Wednesday, June 17, 2015

More on the joys of writing

Barbara here. Aline's post of yesterday– so teasingly true– got me thinking about why on earth we writers put ourselves through what we do. I am currently in the initial concept stages of my next book, due to the publisher in October 2016. I have chosen the theme I think I want to explore (I say 'think' because I often find as the story unfolds that I am writing about something else entirely), and in the usual frantic search for a way into the theme, I am researching. So far I have taken three books out of the library and ordered three from Amazon which are too new to have found their way into the library system.

Behold my light summer reading...

These are not what one would call 'beach reads' nor are they conducive to a leisurely perusal on the dock at my cottage, where I like to do my creative work. Quite apart from the subject matter, which is by turns terrifying, infuriating, bewildering, and depressing, but always fascinating, there is the business of wet dogs shaking exuberantly in front of me or placing muddy balls into my lap. The books look somewhat the worse for wear, which is worrisome for the three that are not actually mine. I have become quite inventive and quick-witted about protecting them. Which is also not conducive to deep, analytical thought about the subject matter.

Still, this is one of the joys of writing. In pursuit of a powerful human interest story, we writers get to explore subjects we know next to nothing about and in the process become intrigued and better informed about important issues that affect our world. I have always noticed that the less a person knows about a subject, the more firm and confident he is in his opinions and solutions. Learn a little about the topic, and certainty become far less clear, the answers far less simple. Bomb them into submission? Yeah, that'll work.

Most of this research is to inform me, and it will not make its way into the book except as part of the backdrop tapestry to the story. But in research, a writer usually doesn't know what they will need to know until they need it, so we cast a wide net in the hope of capturing the facts that will inform the story and the behaviour of the characters in it. Since my main interest and expertise is in psychology, and psychology lies at the heart of character, during most of this research I will be trying to understand and get myself inside the heads of the people involved. 

Quite apart from how it helps my story, this is a useful exercise for anyone trying to understand anything people do. That's one of the great powers of fiction. Research has shown that reading fiction enhances empathy, which is often in short supply in our present society's eager rush to judgment. If all this agony spend on the dock of my cottage leads me to a greater understanding, and to the creation of characters that help others understand, then I will have accomplished my goal. Understanding is not the same as excusing. Understanding might help us find some solutions that actually work.

Meanwhile, someone is waiting for me to throw the ball.


Aline Templeton said...

SO envious of your lovely dock - not to mention the weather to sit out on it! After a miserably cold spring here in Scotaland, we aren't getting excited about summer either.

Eileen Goudge said...

Ditto Aline's comment. Where is that dock and how can I get on it (or near it)? Looks like the ideal spot for dreaming and plotting.

Barbara Fradkin said...

This is the dock at my little cottage on Sharbot Lake, which is in Eastern Ontario about 125 kms west of Ottawa. Prime Canadian cottage country. I love it.