Helga’s Post # 23:
Thomas Berger thought so, and I agree. Here are some reasons why ‘I’ write:
Frequently, I get asked what gets me to do this crazy thing, writing fiction. Why am I, and other supposedly rational folks writing a story that takes a fair chunk out of a person’s life from the little that’s left of it. A lot of those grains of sand sinking to the bulging bottom of life’s hourglass on something that may lead – nowhere.
Well, somebody has to tell that story. There’s no choice. If I won’t write it, it will never be told. Imagine the consequences: a story that nobody before me thought of, a story that is incredibly important to me, where I gave birth to people that nowhere else exist but in my mind but who matter to me, people who nobody will ever get to know? A story that I, or any writer for that matter, found important enough to conceive, to think through to the end, to embellish, to change, to improve during many sleepless hours of the night?
Clearly, not writing if you have a story to tell, is not an option. Especially from the point of view of the person who first created it, and, if he or she is a writer, to put it into words and save it for posterity.
Not that it’s a profitable vocation (unless you are writing ‘how-to-get-published’ books or ‘how-to-suck-eggs’ instructions for aspiring authors). Read Joe’s post of yesterday. He puts it bluntly. Even a pimply-faced kid makes more money working at McDonald’s. So writing is not a vocation for the needy.
Which is rather a pity, because they, the needy, are the ones who might have insights into the dark underbelly of society, thoughts about places in the mind where we don’t ever want to go, and of life itself, that those of us who own dishwashers and lawns and Kobo readers and toilets, lack by necessity. Sure we try in some of our writing to convey the raw aspects of life on the fringe. The defeats as well as the triumphs. But let’s face it, if it comes to trying to get into the head of a character who really, really, doesn’t have a clue where he or she will sleep that night, where to get the money for a fix to keep him from going mad, it’s a stretch.
So how to get that across to the reader? Who wants to read about people like that in the first place? Who wants to read about ‘losers’?
Maybe not want, but should. Because it’s a facet of our society that needs to be told. Not only told. Understood. Empathized.
To be sure, much fine writing exists about marginalized people everywhere. On a local level, we are familiar with the topic from authors like our friend and founder of our critique group, Sean Slater, who works as a cop in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, noted for its high incidence of poverty, drug use, sex trade, crime and violence. Canada’s worst.
Fine writing. Yet, it’s a tall order for any writer to speak from the point of view of its inhabitants, the disenfranchised, unless we’ve lived it ourselves. To tell about their feelings, their hopes and their fears, their longings, their struggle of existence on the streets one day at a time, their view of life itself. Now that would be a challenge for the next novel.
Maybe it won’t have a wide readership. Then again, who knows? Super heroes don’t always make for the most interesting reading. Think about the movie that got a lot of accolades at the Oscars, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’. In the hand of a skilled director (or yes, writer) if you push the right button, people will listen. And learn. And support change. Maybe. Unless they have to give up their dishwashers and lawns. And rain showers and French wines (I prefer New Zealand myself).
Good fiction entertains and transport us to different worlds for a while, as it should. As the author promised its readers. Great fiction does all of that, but more: it holds up a mirror and asks us questions that make us squirm. Questions that lure us to lift that rock to see what lives beneath. That makes us take risks discovering something we would rather not to see.
I am reading a novel like that right now. I wished I could write one like that. Maybe the next one.
For now, I am still writing my 5 Writers Challenge novel, a suspense story set in Vancouver and New York. Enjoying the process, and going slow and deliberate like a good tortoise should.