Archive for October, 2009

Lying and Creativity

October 8, 2009

When I was very young, word usage seemed to be less caustic.   After I’d offered my mom an an alibi for someting I did or didn’t do, she’d ask, “Andy, are you telling me a story”?.   She never used, “Are you lying.”  Of course when I was caught in a lie, then I was labeled a “story-teller.”   Hmmm.  That’s what I’m trying to do now with my novels and short stories —  be a story teller.

As most young people do, I did challenge the rules I was supposed to obey — about homework, about places not to go, and various other misdemeanors.  When caught, I’d first deny with a simple, “No I didn’t do that.”  But as the youngest of six children, my parents had developed a keen sense of intuition about whether their children were being honest.   Merely denying was not enough to prevent me from being punished.  So I learned that if I was to tell a story, it had better be a good one.   Thus began a part of my creativity. 

I did an effective job of covering up the deaths of my Guinea pigs, the laceration on my sister’s wrist (where there’s still a scar),  the condoms discovered in the pocket of my jeans that were absentmindedly tossed in the laundry, and other juvenile crimes.  But being that kind a story teller, as exciting as it was to be successful in being creative, was unsatisfying.   I knew the truth.  And I think it is just more comfortable (maybe morally right) for both the person providing the words, and the person receiving the words to know whether the words are truth or fiction.

Later, I did learn the value of truthfulness, honesty, and integrity, and have chosen a path based on those principles.  And now as a writer I can openly tell untruths — stories — call them fiction, and nobody who reads my work would call me a liar.  Writing creativity I suppose is a form of lying, but obviously an accepable one.   And with I the writer, and the person who reads my work, both understanding  that the words are fiction, there’s no guilt like there is about those poor Guinea pigs who died over fifty years ago.

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Relate or Empathize

October 4, 2009

It is critical that my readers relate to my protagonists, or if not, that they empathize with them.  In my detective novels — the Random Sample Trilogy — I intentionally created characters with experiences that are common to many Americans.  Rhett Sanders is divorced, unfortunately like half of the people living in the U.S.  He is helping to raise a daughter, he has found his work a little too routine and at times uninteresting.  He’s not a professional crime fighter.  He’s hopefully like many of my readers in at least some ways.  Toni Darnell is also divorced, and is a business owner who works hard to keep in shape.  Like many American women her age, she’s had to prove, not only to her own family, that she’s as smart and as proficient as a man.  And Chris Beck is a man who feels compelled to demonstrate his manly qualities, though inside he has a soft heart.   In those detective novels, I remind readers that these people, although deeply involved in perilous investigations of evil doers, are human, that they aren’t perfect, that they have normal fears or neuroses, and that they engage in everyday activities like cooking, going out to a bar, shopping, etc.

I think it is more difficult to relate to characters in my Lakota Dreams, a story that takes place in the 1870’s.  So in this novel, I try to force readers to empathize with the lead characters by sharing their thoughts when good things happen to them, or when they are faced with tragedy.   If readers don’t share common experiences with characters who lived without electricity, rode horses, slept on the ground, etc., then hopefully they share common emotions.

I think the success of a novel, or any endeavor, relies on the degree with which there is empathy and/or relatability.   And for perhaps an unusual segue, I apply this principle with the decreasing popularity of professional sports in America.  While I still watch a lot of sports on television, my interest is not as passionate as it once was, and I blame it on my inabiity to relate with or empathize with the athletes.  I just can’t relate to a 300 pound person, or one that is over seven feet tall, and face it, the majority of players are from a different ethnic culture.   While I  can still admire the physical prowess these athletes demonstrate, the connection is not there.  And when the salaries of these people are publicized, not only can I not relate, I also have a hard time empathizing with them. 

So I continue to write, focusing on the importance of developing characters with whom readers can empathize and relate, and spend less time watching professsional sports, believing that twenty years from now interest in professional sports in America will have vanished completely.