This week I read two colleague’s novels, worked on two screenplays, and on my new book. Throughout all of this writing, a clear theme emerged: more and more, what we write is inspired by the real life events going on around us. Often writing is a way for us to get hold of and contain real life issues that our out of control in everyday life.
For example, in Jon Land’s newest book, Strong Darkness, he writes in the Author’s Note at the back of the book that he was inspired by a news story. In one of the screenplays, my student was inspired by a personal family event, and Kirsten Houghton in The Author’s Note of her new book, For I have Sinned, mentioned that while the events are fictional some of the horrifying facts are real and documented. In my current thriller, The Book Of Zev, I was not inspired by a particular event, but rather by the ongoing situation in the Middle East.
Where does leave the idea of creativity being something “made up?” The center of my writing system is a map that helps organize the events of any story into a narrative easily understood and enjoyed by a reader. My theory is that as soon as you are aware of experience and seek to communicate it to others, you have left the realm of objectivity and must consider the reaction of your intended audience as you create. This does not mean to pander, but to accept that a play must find an audience. In this way, you can achieve the goal: in your story the real life situation that is out of your control in life becomes a plot that you can shape to have a satisfying ending.
But control is relative. We can shape our stories, but how can we be assured that our reader will share our experience? The question of how much the observer of an experiment influences the experiment is how I creatively reinterpreted one of the preoccupations of Quantum Physics. This is also a good question to ponder when creating stories–we use our words to control the “Observer/ Reader” with the “Experiment/ screenplay/book.”
But with the onset of the “selfie” and the GoPro camera, the lines between reality and the record of that reality becomes more and more blurred. Although I am referencing photographic devices they can be seen as a metaphor for story, the best of which reflect our reality back at us. Otherwise, how could we understand what we are seeing?
Movies such as Inception, The Matrix, Angel heart and Memento are films that employ the connection that the characters therein have with some kind of objective reality, and as we watch, we become enmeshed with the characters and experience what they are going through. This is a worthy goal for both screenplay and fiction writers
The answer to the question of how to control the readers experience has to do with the reader’s connection with the characters not the plot. In the excellent book Bird by Bird, Annie Lamont talks about creating reader recognition of characters, and this is the key for us writers. If we can make our characters lifelike enough for the reader to identify, we can then “control the experiment” by guiding the character and hence the reader in such a way that they will experience what we want them to.
To recap, one of the reason we write is to get imaginary control over real life issues we are powerless to change. By fictionalizing real life events we can create a solution that pleases us. However, we must also control the reader’s experience of what we want, and we do this by using our words with care, and by creating characters with whom the reader can identify.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz
copyright(c) 2014 by Marilyn Horowitz