|Jan 21, 2009 8:07 pm
||3rd Requirement: Insight + Exercise
|| The first (love of reading) and second (imagination) are on this blog, so if you haven't had a chance to read them, they're there whenever you have the chance :)
Today I'm discussing insight and why that is a requirement. Now, some of you may be familiar with a red flag I've mentioned in the past. This red flag tells me who does, and doesn't, have what it takes to be a writer. (I discussed this in a blog about honesty.) This red flag is a level of maturity that allows a person to have the insight necessary to write believably.
This does not mean age-wise. I've met sixteen year olds who have a higher level of maturity and insight than some sixty year olds. It also doesn't mean one has to be the MOST insightful or mature person on the planet. Without maturity to accept what your insight tells you however, that insight will be useless.
Let's begin by defining insight:
*Clear or deep perception of a situation
For our purposes, the above definittion is the one we need. The study of mankind, in many different ways, is how one can come to that clear and deep understanding of a situation. The path to insight is paved with curiosity. Those who are incurious are the ones who often end up stunted in their maturity, and hence practice a type of insight that is based solely on what they themselves would or wouldn't do (projection, as it's often called.) This is a shallow reflection of true insight.
See, true insight accepts the good with the bad, the positive with the negative. There's a saying in fiction that the villain is the hero of his or her own story. This is true. If we aren't curious to know why, if we are dismissive and judgemental to the exclusion of understanding, then we fail as a writer to create a three-dimensional--and otherwise believable--character. Without a believable character, there really is no story.
The one essential element of insight is not just being honest about human nature, but about your own human nature. To create a character who is TSTL (too stupid to live) means to create a character based on your conceptions of your own innocence. This is the character who's never accountable for the man/woman he/she chooses to marry or the friends he/she has or the situations he/she choose to be in. This is what raises the red flag for me.
If you cannot be honest about your own short-comings, about the areas of your own character that need addressing, then you can't be honest about the character you're creating. Being vulnerable on the page isn't easy. During a recent review, it was mentioned that my heroine (Kaylee, in DFF) was too forgiving at one point. I don't know which point that is, but I was shocked to see that offered. It's something I struggle with in my personal life--being too forgiving. I don't see that as something to be proud of, but rather, how I can often allow people to wipe their feet on me one too many times. It's a weakness I have to overcome--especially if it's making it's way into my writing.
I allow myself to be vulnerable on the page, however, and that's why the rest of that review spoke about how much they loved Kaylee as a strong heroine who doesn't back down--because it's not only about your flaws, it's also about your strengths. Think of Stephen King and how he's used his own history and the culture of his upbringing to pepper all his writings. He is vulnerable on the page. The same can be said for Anne Rice, and J.K. Rowling, and Clive Cussler.
Anyone who's studied poice procedure understands how ten eye-witnesses can tell ten differing stories. We each bring our own perspectives to the table, we each bring our own expectations as well. We bring our flaws and our strengths. So, let's take this factual event and imagine how two or more different witnesses might have reacted:
A pair of young black men attempt to steal a white man's car. This white man, accompanied by a group of his white friends, uses a baseball bat to beat them so badly, they fracture one man's skull--and they do this while shouting racial slurs. When the white men complete this beating, they steal the black man's sneakers.
You can choose any type of witness you like: a card-carrying member of the ACLU, the daughter of a Grand Dragon, an elderly hispanic man who speaks little English, a sixth-grader on his way home from school...
Try to choose characters completely opposite from yourself in gender, economic class, ethnicity and age. Use insight into human nature, think of different historical or important figures you read about in school or biographies of people who had experiences completely alien to your own (Anne Frank, Lincoln, Pocahontas, Einstein, etc.) Use your own personal experiences in social settings. Define the emotion--and then remember a time when you, yourself felt that emotion, and walk in the shoes of these utterly foreign characters.
You can do this exercise privately, or share in the comments. Please let me know though, if this helps or if I've only confused everyone :)
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