Continuing with the theme of finding your own voice, I don’t believe that it’s something that most people are born with or have an easy time learning. I didn’t, and I’m still apprenticing.
Nowadays, I need to marinate on large (and small) scale issues down to the molecule before arriving at my own opinion. It wasn’t always like this; my family was catholic.
I really can’t remember the exact moment things changed.
Maybe it was hearing enough plausibly divergent things about the same subject. Or, ridiculous statements and wack behaviours from so-called intelligent, trustworthy cats. Or, simply enough, just through experience and being open to them and to the opinion of others.
But we turned this franchise around, quick-fast. And now, there is no looking back.
I’ll focus on the book-writing process as a way that I hash out my thoughts, opinions and the like, since it’s my favourite way.
There is a gamut of ways that I do this, which can vary, depending on the story and the weight of the issue that I want to tackle. Do I have an a priori perspective? A presentiment or an embarrassing lack of awareness? Is there a stereotype that needs to be observed or chucked asunder? Who’s telling the narrative? Can I trust them? Did I inherit a bias? Does my race, gender or class tilt my lenses in a way causes a glare? Have I lived or seen this in real life? How close to home is it?
Ideally, those questions come prior and during the writing process, but should remain and become more teased-out during creation. Also pertinent is how much I have thought about something? To what degree has it dominated popular thought with popular opinion? Does it elicit any emotional response?
Though I can, and sometimes do, take the pen with a clarion message of what I want to espouse, I prefer to let the conversation unfurl in front of me. As I’ve said, I prefer to leave the door open and for the reader to think, then for the reader to walk away with ideological pabulum dribbling down their chin.
The codifying and deconstruction of a piece is the grace of art exemplified.
A story may be directed by a particular topic, but it’s the winds of the writing process that really guide the ship.
Don’t worry, I brought examples…
COWARD is, at it’s core, a social satire. I wrote it with a variety of pocket-sized intentions, with a main arc to demonstrate the toxicity of nice guy culture. The ‘why me’ and ‘but, I’m a nice guy’ rhetoric that has made men, and some women, deceitful, leprous poison.
At the time, I was depressed, alone and angry with myself for not being where I wanted to be in life. Everything tasted bitter and looked ugly.
While I’m far from a nice guy, I created a character that took the traits that I loathed in myself, and those I found to be the worst in others, and broke the knob.
I had so much resentment in my own life that Sam came to be a surrogate for my mental state. A scapegoat. His adventure, as it unfolded, served as a cautionary tale about working-out your issues- like anger and jealously and greed and pettiness- healthily. Scenes are filled with characters that Sam (and I suppose myself) found disagreeable, to say the least. The behaviours or ‘types’ that rarely get called out. It explored what I perceived to be an everyday void of self-awareness and consideration for others. This exercise, of putting yourself directly into the minds of those others, can soften the hostility, even make it disappear.
THE FURIES was different. It’s hood tale that showed the life of poor urbanites in the 90’s. A snapshot of life in a blue-collar, violent, drug and gang infested city. I had no discursive intentions going-in. I didn’t even know the ending, only a few action scenes. I just wanted to report on the things I saw and did growing up and tales from the block. It was supposed to be different, in fact, half narrative and half Dubliners-style short story anthology.
When I would tell stories from my youth to people as an adult, the response was either one of an exotic fascination or an instant bonding moment with others from the same type of place. The smallest descriptors, the ‘thrown-by-the-wayside’ recollections can yield hold the greatest nostalgia.
The reviews for the story mentioned that it did well to develop a discussion around low social-economic status and power dynamics; racial inequality; class struggle; substance abuse and dependence; kin and friendship. These hadn’t been my intention when I started. There was little motivation beyond creating something entertaining.
However, as I was writing it, the threads began to connect.
By the end, the main character didn’t end up being one of the kids, but the city. The struggle against, and with, one’s environment. Fury, as an idea and a state of mind, is omnipresent. There are projects and ghettoes and red zones in every city. There are good, well-meaning people in terrible places, without hope and without choice. There are predators and prey. The mental and spiritual battles that that rage on against the same faceless titan. The pitfalls of drugs and the temptation of escape.
The story is about the city, told through the eyes of an impressionable, relatable cast. If I didn’t give them the creative leeway to embark on their journey, together and individually, the story may have still been interesting, but wouldn’t have resonated as much.
Both stories have one key factor. They are intended to be read as a full journey, from start to finish. Ideally, it should be read in their entirety with moments to stop and reflect, as any piece of art.
Just like my deliberation process allows the slow blossoming of an opinion, the scope of the narrative and the creator’s intention needs time to fully reveal itself to the reader. Reading or hearing content without realizing the intent is dangerous. A half reading can be akin to hearing part of a conversation and making a potentially damaging assumption. Or, listening to only one side of an argument, and raising the sword without knowing the full complexity of the battle, like a mercenary.
Of course, there are times that I go into battle with a stated cause. They are usually shorter stories and written in heavy metaphor. It’s strange how the mind creates; twisting simple things into indefinable shapes and jarring patterns. I guess there’s still a big part of me that wants to make the reader read carefully and come to their own conclusions. There’s great art in war when the struggle is beautiful.
Something you say in the nascent staged of your deliberation can be taken out of context. I play opposing sides in my mind, let them duke it out. It’s not about which side wins, it’s about having my own opinion. Something that I truly believe, and feel, and can then contribute.