Thursday, January 15, 2009
Hard toremember sometimes, when we write: what counts.
Robert Heinlein was the first to clue me in: a good few of his characters were writers, adventurers who'd had adventurous lives and thought nothing could be easier than writing about their real-life experiences.
They soon found that the only way to successfully write adventure was to forget what they knew.
Some of us have this problem. Some writers have the opposite problem: I call it research-itus, where you research and research until you kno w every in and out and the subject lies dead under your fingertips.
I'll be honest. Along with a lot of writers, my process is half close-my-eyes-and-remember, half close-my-eyes and-imagine.
Remembering, I'm back with the the thump-thump-THUMP of my heart as a blade flashes in the sunlight, the vague brutality (like lightning looking for a place to ground) that drew me to nerve centers, floating ribs, weak places in joint-construction. This is very hard to turn into interseting reading.
To tell the truth, (and I want to tell y'all the truth), trying to chronicle these moments, however cathartic, leads to damned boring reading. The excitement is more taking that, and imagining...
More often, I read the other guys: writers who've done so *damned* much research and just. Can't. Wait. to show it. Whether it's the average rainfall of California or the three easiest takedowns against an armed assailant, these writers really, really, *really* want you to feel the depth of their research.
Guess what, all of us:
It don't matter.
Research doesn't count. Not really. Neither does experience.
Words on a page.
We write words. Some of us draw pictures. A few of us do both. But, as always, the main thing is the story.
Tell a story the audience can't wait to hear, and they don't give a damn about your research. Or your experience.
They just want to hear what happens next.
Don't believe me? Check out the Iliad. Homer had all the access he wanted to seasoned veterans, men who could give him any detail he wanted about spear-maintenance, overlapping-shield tactics and the friner points of battlefield injuries.
What survived the last two or three thousand years? Achilles dragging Hector's body behind a chariot. Athene stepping in with her poisoned arrow. Helen, lovely and troubled, standing at the ramparts of Troy.
Gilgamesh? Nobody gives a rat's ass about the finer points of Bronze Age warmaking, only that the big bastard set out in a small boat to battle one hell of a big serpent.
More recently: most *real* pirates plundered tar and timber, rope and rum. Compare that shabby truth to the story told in Treasure Island, and be thankful RL Stevenson's research and experience wasn't of a higher caliber. In the end, every one of us who makes a mark on paper is just like Blind Pew...
In other news, Shauna gave me a lovely award. I'll pass it along when I'm sober. Meantime, thank you very much Shauna. Glad you find a little bit you like in this blog...