I'm Stephanie.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

post xv: Fictional Thoughts

So this past week, my fiction workshop instructor, Christian Winn (of the Winnstitute) instructed us to write five opening lines for potential stories.  He has some greater master scheme I know, but for now we were supposed to write five.
This is pretty hugely both out of my comfort zone, yet exactly how I must operate, at least sporadically.  Usually I get characters in my head, and they're practically a part of me.  I know them before I write them.  I'm less plot driven than character driven, and this can certainly be a weakness.
But I hear dialogue.  I hear voices.  I hear them slighting another person, or apologizing for something they didn't do.  I know what keeps them up at night, or what makes them want to go to sleep at nine PM because consciousness is so much harder than sleep if you're good at it (ooh shit, am I speaking from experience?)
So doing this was strange.  The voice and the direction of action must be present all at once.  Again, this is exactly the kind of discipline I need.  Usually, I bake cookies with my characters, I read with them in mind, I run with them, I think of how they would react when others speak or act, I think about what they would order at a bar and how they would hold their drink.  I consider their needs, their values.  Would they rather be safe, or in a constant state of uncertainty?  In love with someone who didn't love them back, or not in love with someone who was insane for them?  Do they believe in life after death?  In cosmic order, or perpetual disarray?  Would they enjoy a cigarette on the long commute to work in LA?  Would they be listening to Eat Pray Love on audio?  Or Hegel's Aesthetics on audio?

(Bennie's character map from A Visit from the Goon Squad)

However independent I feel my characters are, I know that I am, in whatever capacity, inside of them, and to say they operate totally independently of me would be bullshit.  Do they operate independently of any of my conscious efforts?  Most of the time, yes.  But the unconscious?  There's no way.
Whatever projections of my characters materialize, I know there is always a deep rooted (or shallow-rooted) part of me that is fueling them.  Obviously.

But what happens when you take away the ability to know a character without having written a single word?:

1. My parents always said: "There are two kinds of people: those who masturbate and those who lie."
2. The day I lost my virginity to Wyatt, he bought me Space Jam on DVD.
3. My wife and I have had a passive-aggressive war of toilet paper attrition going for three years.
4. Each day, I inject my boss' midsection with insulin.
5. We buried Rosie's stillbirth puppies somewhere near the Hot Springs.

What happens is what I would consider to be largely superficial crap.  But are they offshoots for stories?  Yeah, they would work that way.
I find that when not faced with the immediate starting off point that includes the intricacies of a character I've been living beside, that I tend to go for humor, but I know that humor for me is two things:
1.) It is humor as a whole, unobstructed by life's bitterness, perhaps existing only in opposition to the acridity of human experience
2.) and then there is humor that is constantly holding life's bitterness in regard.
Both can be good.
(Holy shit, just realized human, humor.  Whooooa....maybe, not really.)

But then I have to ask myself, why write fiction at all?  What makes good fiction?  Isn't the important thing to just write, and test yourself, and allow for growth regardless of the outcome?  Even if that growth feels like regression.  If you're writing, you are growing.  If you're spending all of your time lying and fabricating, eventually, inevitably, the pendulum swings back and you land upon truth.

But imagining what people do, creating them and their motions, doesn't necessarily make you a writer.  It is still a craft, and regardless of intentions or artistic flurries of thought, there is a sentence-by-sentence deliberacy.
Just found these "8 Basics of Creative Writing" written by Kurt Vonnegut:
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. (ditto)
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action. (Yes!)
  5. Start as close to the end as possible. (whaaat!  YES!)
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. (!!!)
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
These are perfect.  Vonnegut basically sucked any remaining words from me for now.