On my Facebook page, I commented on David Corbett’s article in the current Writer’s Digest. The piece is titled: Hooked on a Feeling: The Emotion-Driven Method of Crafting Compelling Characters. It is an excellent article, full of good concepts. But for me, the word “compelling” jumped into my figurative headlights.
When a writer is asked why they write, the answer is invariably along the lines of “because I can’t NOT write.” Some will call it a compulsion, an addiction or to make money, feed my family. A few will confess it’s a hobby, a pastime, better than television. Some will say to educate, entertain, get my message out, leave something for the kids, or just maybe, they’ll state their belief that they “have a book in me.” With that last one, the person is liable to ask the next writer they meet to write the book for them.
I am compelled to write. It hasn’t always been this way, especially through high school and most of college when my first bluebook (yes, I’m dating myself) was a bare page and a half. Then, onionskin paper, carbon paper, mom’s 1930’s typewriter and erasures made term papers an all night production. By graduate school, I was writing my first and last draft at the same typewriter, ideas and words already plotted out.
Social workers record their client contacts, recalling what was said or acted on. Describing the setting whether home, neighborhood, school or business gives important clues to a family’s life. Welfare workers in years past looked for men’s clothing tossed about; street gang workers look for the chains, knives (now automatic guns,) drugs and other paraphernalia of the life; therapists take into account the self-care of their client (BO, unwashed hair and clothes, rotting teeth,) in assessing emotional state. The fine tooth comb is applied by the observer’s sensitivity to surroundings, interactions, appearances, weaknesses and strengths. Fiction writers do much the same.
I write because I am compelled to deal with issues of the human condition. Characters and story lines evolve for me in drowsy day dreams or clear thinking, in night dreams and memories. They all but stand up and do a shout out: TELL THE STORY, MY STORY.
And so I start with a word at a time, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph. I will reread at the end of the day and the beginning of the next. I’ll search for poor word choice, question if I’ve conveyed what I wanted to or I’ll see if the character is taking me into unknown and unexpected territory. Then, I will be compelled to put a new word, phrase and all that follows into the computer and see the magic unfold. The process is sometimes very difficult, when the words don’t come, when the character seems to be getting away from me, when I’m sure it is all unadulterated trash.
That’s when I’ll check my email, read blogs that I know will have pearls of wisdom and seek out other writers. I’ll turn to my journal and often find my way out of the hole in the process of going inside myself. Reading a really good book holds the danger of showing me I was right, my work is trash. That’s usually short-lived because the compelling drive to get the story out renews itself and I’m back at the computer, or in the park using pen and paper, breaking the routine to escape the rut I got into and finding the magic repeating itself. The words flow, new characters emerge, twists occur and the tension of the story builds.
I’m right where I need to be. I’m writing.