1. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Making Up Stories, Are We?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BrianIff, Jun 21, 2015.

    This article I just read came as a big relief I must say. It talks about writers becoming more reliant on their own lives for inspiration, or even characters, themes, and events to a level that might not seem like real fiction.

    As someone new to creative writing, I'm wondering if this is common to feel like characters seem like they're too fictional, even if you write in Sci-fi and fantasy. How much real-life experience do you put into your stories? Is it normal for beginners to think their stories lack dimension?

    This gist of the article can be attained within a minute or so, if too long.

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/05/told-2
     
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  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Replacing "characters" with "settings", yes, I can relate. For quite a while after I got the idea for my WIP, my main goal was to find the perfect "real world" setting in which my rather unusual plot device would be feasible. I guess the reason I wanted a "real world" setting was to give the book literary merit by making the story more than just another fantasy. (And to escape the fanfiction roots of the inspiration for the story.)

    Took me too long to realize that I could write just as good of a story in a setting completely made-up and tailor-made to fit my plot device.
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Meh. If that's the experience of one author, fine, but I wasn't convinced by the "a condition that a number of real-life writers have been reporting," part. What number? Three? Of the millions of people writing fiction across the world, what number of them would need to report a condition in order for that condition to be something worth discussing?

    In terms of "Is it normal for beginners to think their stories lack dimension" - I think it is normal, and I think it's because most beginners' stories do lack dimension. It's hard to write a convincing, multi-layered fictional character, and it's hard to write a story that has true depth. But I think the solution to that is to keep working at it, not... do whatever it is Cusk has done, which I'm still not clear on. Has she just given up on creating characters and is now planning to steal all her writing from real-life events? Unless she leads a very interesting life, which she doesn't seem to, I don't think I'm interested.
     
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  4. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    buuuuuuurn :supercheeky:

    (To address the point of your post, though: indeed, it is very believable that it is common for new authors to feel their characters are not fleshed-out enough simply because they truly are not fleshed-out enough. That is really the simplest and most believable explanation there is. But on top of that, it is also believable that the pretense of writing something "literary" or at least "realistic" is holding a significant amount of new authors back from letting their imaginations run wild. I can believe it because it held me back for a while. And for more experienced authors, I can easily imagine that the task of coming up with plots over and over again leads to an effect similar to semantic satiation, where the words that lose their meaning are the tropes of fiction. Not for everyone, but certainly for a significant amount of people.)
     
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  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I suppose it's easier, when having a crisis of sorts with one's own writing, to attribute it to a problem that other writers have as well.

    Certainly, the tendency to use one's own life experiences to inform one's fiction is common. Dickens did it. Twain did it. Hemingway did it. I suspect most writers do, to some extent. It may be in terms of settings, of characters or even specific incidents. R. F. Delderfield called his novel, To Serve Them All My Days, "shamelessly autobiographical". I always found that interesting, implying as it does that recreating one's life in fiction is somehow a lesser form of fiction. But I think there is a difference between real life informing one's fiction on the one hand and fictionalizing one's life on the other. And perhaps the latter has become more accepted recently; Woody Allen lampooned the practice in "Hannah and Her Sisters", but seems to have grown more accepting of it in "Midnight In Paris." Still, I'd be careful about declaring it to be a "trend", and more careful still to rely upon it as a solution to running out of ideas.
     
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  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is one of those things that might have some truth but we don't like to talk about.

    I've made this claim about most fantasy novels. The settings are completely imaginary, and thus lack dimension. In many cases, based on the books I've read, the characters in these false settings follow suit.

    The counter argument to this is that all novels, even those based in the "real world" are at the end of the day fictional, and thus, ultimately, all fiction by definition is silly because it's make believe.

    Look, I'm never going to be embarrassed to say I read a paper by Richard Feynman(physics). Even Nabokov, whom I absolutely adore is not something I'd necessarily feel comfortable bringing up to just anyone.

    Yet, some of the best things in life are silly. Go back in time and overhear your first heartfelt conversations with a serious lover... or listen to how you talk to your cat or your dog, or think about how we have holes in our asses. This is why the best genre in all entertainment is in fact comedy, Because, like human life, it does not take itself 100% seriously.

    A very serious, grim novel, is almost in a sense not serious at all. It's a a distraction/ indulgence, even if it provides catharsis. This is why the older I get, the harder I find it to write 100% serious novels, and impossible to write anything in the fantasy genre (fantasy novels that take themselves seriously are a joke).

    This doesn't mean I don't ever plan to write something super serious, after all, I already said some of the best things in life are silly. But I do think, like a really good candy bar, there is a limit. Twenty dramatic, serious stories are enough. Time to move on and expand the way you use your words. Explore new concepts and ways to affect your reader, aka David Foster Wallace or Joyce. Satire is always great, of course.
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for posting this. A very interesting article. I wouldn't take it as a blueprint for how to write, though. From this article, I'd say Cusk's book sounds as if it's strangled itself a bit. Not sure what to make of it. Is she making a point, or is she inadvertently revealing her lack of one? Hmmm....
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there's definitely a risk of overthinking and over-intellectualizing things. From the sound of the article, that was one of the criticisms made of one of this author's previous works - she wrote about her divorce but turned it into a sort of intellectual exercise, with nothing really unique or personal involved. So quite possibly she would be someone vulnerable to the sort of malaise I think you're talking about.
     
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  9. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I completely agree with @123456789 here.

    But I don't think this concept is something that warrants real concern. If non-fiction is more natural to your voice, it makes sense that when you go to write a work of fiction it will be based on certain realities from your life. Personally, I find a lot more depth in that, and I prefer to read things with depth. I don't really read solely for the purpose of entertainment, and I have to stop myself from being pretentious about that. I want to come away from a novel with a greater understanding of the world around me. If I don't -- if what I've just read is a bunch of gobbledygook in my eyes -- I start to resent the time I spent reading it.

    But that's simply my preference. It doesn't mean that authors who write for the simple sake of a nice story are lesser, and it doesn't mean that I'm lesser for not finding it natural to write those kinds of stories.

    I think we're all subject to over-analysis, and some of this article screams such to me. If you hate your characters because you feel like you don't really know any part of them, then write characters that relate to you. I'm not saying that people can't write relatable characters without having empathized with some facet of their personality, but some do struggle more with it and need to write what they know. But that can't be generalized in the field of writing. It's simply a matter of style.
     
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  10. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Aww, man, now I have to make a Hitler Rant Parody of myself about how I can simply not use my imagination. "But Writing Forums will agree with me that I can just put my life into novel form." "Mein Fuhrer, Writing Forums...Writing Forums..."

    Thanks for the input, everyone! :)
     
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  11. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    I did the 'two minute special,' maybe read the rest later on.

    I don't dig this Hampstead ennui, it's feck borin,' and don't comprehend the hands off sincerity in the journalism [well, just right for parody]. I've seen it in the Atlantic too with that Israeli piece, the 'pot-smoking' write which was whack, and many others, so very considered [comfortable] and so drafted to paste, a very poor soup.

    Whilst the writing here confuses me, bloody washy rubbish like dunkin a biscuit, sat in the greenhouse. These are supposed to be the masters and it's...well these aren't writers, these are glossies for the airline traveller.

    Get over ye'sen
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2015
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  12. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Were we reading the same article guys? For me it was a review of an author who I'd never heard of about her strange take on how autobiographies should be written - and I do mean strange.

    I don't read or write autobiography. I'm a sci fi / fantasy guy with a little horror and philosophy thrown in. There is no autobiograpy involved. And the characters I write, are not me. They aren't based on my life experience. They are based on my idea of who I might want to be. That's a world of difference.

    As for their depth, that is a worry for me as it is with most writers I suspect. But as my editor keeps telling me, it's mostly the depth in the villains that's an issue. I'm not a villain, and though I've met some and interviewed a few, none of them have been arch villains. News flash - they don't exist. Most criminals you'll meet are surprisingly simple people with poor life strategies, little education and even poorer coping abilities. They commit crimes usually because it's the only solution to whatever problem that they're dealing with that they can think of. Readers in general I suspect, wouldn't want to read about them.

    That's a problem when you want to write a villain for your fantasy work. It's a bigger problem when you want to make him real! Give him some motivation for what he's doing. Because he isn't real. And so his motivation isn't going to be real.

    There's a scene in one of the Austin Powers movies that I've always loved where Doctor Evil's son is there and Auston Powers is trapped, and he's busy yelling at his father to just shoot him. No complex, elaborate plots from which the hero is destined to escape, just take a gun and shoot him in the head. And while that's farce, it shows up so clearly the whole unreality of the Bond villain. They are written to fit a plot.

    All of which leaves the writer in the unfortunate position of having to write a villain, without being able to write him so that he fits a plot because that's too shallow. Equally he's unable to write him based on actual Bond villains because they don't exist. And he can't write him based on real life villains because no one would want to read about them.

    You wonder why Sauron never appears? There's my guess why.

    But yes, back to the OP's question. In writing characters you are making them up. There's no autobiography involved I hope - at least with villains.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  13. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not quite, because Bond villains do exist, or existed once upon a time for Ian Fleming. Only through this smoothing of the stone do they appear cartoon.
     
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  14. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    And Bond girls, only through the soothing of the stone do they swoon.
     
  15. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's very pretty. I mean guy, Brian, one day very soon we'll all be fighting them off, every variety of groupy: man fans their pens, ladies with their fans.
     
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  16. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Surely you're referring to the folding variety of fan?? Which reminds me, I have a copy of Miss Hill I should get around to sometime.
     
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  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Ehh – I can get pretentious sometimes about 'great' fiction versus genre but sheee, is a person really so pompous that they think even when they use a real person or a real place it's somehow real and not fiction? In your dreams. Everything is ultimately fake. No ones reads a story in progress they read the end result - your version, clipped, polished and grammarized to perfection. That step alone has an air of a fabrication.

    Depth lies in ability.
    And in technique - which I believe she's found more than relying on personal experience. Personal experience doesn't guarantee an ability to translate it well. If at all.

    My fiction is a hybrid of everything I've seen, felt, heard and absorbed - culturally and personally with my own twists thrown in.
    Yes. And yes to a lot of older more experienced authors - I would think. Doubt doesn't stop at any age or ability.

    I think fantasy bares the brunt of really exposing it's fiction roots because the goals/stakes can be outrageous – the fate of the world is in your hands mini-wizard. It's distancing the reader ( who can relate? ) but at the same time giving him a sense of wish fulfillment. You're important. Everything you do matters.

    Also time never bends quite like the writer hopes. It could be the year 3062 and it still can't shake traces of 2014.
     
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