Monday, May 5, 2008

Love of intimacy, fear of committment

The characters that I write about, I know very well. They are *not* real people, because no description on a page could ever really transcribe a breathing living person, especially when you start adjusting details and inventing actions. Even "based on" real people seems a stretch to me, since every time I try that, my viewpoint and the needs of the narrative, and the desire to invent and the limits of my ability to transcribe, results in characters that would never be recognized by their so-called "basis."

And yet I feel intimate with them, because I spend so much time working out information that never appears in stories, nor should it: you barely want to hear about the grocery-store buying patterns of people you actually know and love, let alone invented strangers in a fiction. But it entertains me to work this stuff out while I'm sitting on the bus--lots of tiny anecdotes that might or might not be entertaining, but go nowhere, are plotless, almost eventless. Sadly, I sometimes get confused and write them into stories, and then have to write them right back out again.

Perhaps this is all part of Hemingway's iceberg theory of writing: that 9/10 of an iceberg remains unseen, but that's what keeps it afloat. It's true, it helps me to write about characters I know well, although it's not exactly a coherent effort on my part to build them up in my head. More likely, my commute is just too frickin' long.

On the other hand, when I have to shape my time and efforts towards buidling a story, ie., do actual research about places and things, instead of just staring into space thinking about people, I get stymied. Or lazy. I did coherent research for a short story last fall for what is probably the first time. It took *forever*, and really was not as much work as I made it out to be. This summer, I need to go to Montreal to do research for (gasp) book the second. This is not a hard task--Montreal in summer is awesome!

And yet with the foot-dragging.

It is possible that it seems to me a bit too committment-y to put otherwise useful time and money into writing projects. The daydreaming on the bus, even the hours at the desk, there's a part of me that feels like those are mine to do what I like with, but to spend $200 on a train ticket, take a week off from work...for a book I haven't even written yet? Who do I think I am? A writer? How pretentious--research! If I were a *real* writer, wouldn't I be able to invent it all? Or shouldn't I be "writing what I know"? Or something?

It's nothing terribly rigorous that I need to do in Montreal--just see certain buildings and neighbourhoods and get my bearings clearly. Possibly I'd feel better about it if I had to go dig through archives or something. Anyway, at least in this way I can make it into something somewhat vacation-y--go out to eat, see friends, frolic. Although, there's a part of my brain that isn't so hot on frivolity, either--why aren't you *writing?* screams that area of the mind.

You know, it's really a wonder I get anything done at all.

Could someone please take me?



Ransermo said...

My impression has been that you fact check short stories and research novels.
To use a horrible metaphor, you dig for novels (period research, map out neighbourhood, character profiles etc) like when you dig a well. whereas short stories sort of "found" like springwater Its a collection of what you have filed in your brain from your life so far.

In short there is nothing wrong soaking up Montreal like a sponge to be twisted out later. :)

Of course I could be wrong. :)

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

This seems an apt metaphor to me, although a flexible one. You did help me with some well-digging for a short story last fall, I recollect...

Ransermo said...

Or were you just following me through the woods looking for water. :)