Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You might be a writer if...

Have you ever asked the question, "Yes, but...what do they really mean?"

Everybody has asked that at least once, right?

But, do you find yourself asking it a lot? Wondering what the true meaning is behind any conversation? Certain there must be a hidden meaning, if only you could find it?

You might be a writer if...you think everyone speaks in code.

At first, I thought this side effect of writing stemmed from the hazardous amount of rejection we writers expose ourselves to. Example: promising rejection letters that include a phrase or two about how the writer could make the manuscript better. They are so heartening. They mean, we are sooooooo close. But then, how close? And how could I really make it better? And why, suddenly, do the well-meaning editor's words seem like a code?

And then I'm off on a tangent dissecting, resectioning, imbueing, inferring, laboring without pause to get to what the editor really meant. Because it's hidden in there somewhere. It can't possibly be on the surface for all to see.

Because what my characters say never is. How could it be. Readers would never stand for it. They don't want idle chitchat. Fillers. Uh's and um's. Beating around the bush. They want code. They want puzzles. They want to get lost in a story and have to do some deciphering. They want a little fun! So we authors stylize, hide, weigh, infer, encode. We encode! Because everyone is doing it.

I think.


Oh, what do they really mean?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Book Review Club - The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell

I never thought I'd see the day I would review a craft book over a work of fiction or nonfiction. But here it is! Never say never. It's not that I don't read craft pieces. Or that they cause me undo pain (okay, maybe some). It's just that until now that I hadn't been moved so profoundly by one that I felt the urge to share. 

The Hero with a Thousand Faces changed all of that. Reading Campbell's book was more than an experience. It made me rethink the way I view literature, storytelling, the role of storytelling within humanity, religion, society, thinking. At one point, Campbell had exposed so much of what storytelling does so profoundly, I said to my husband, "All I've got left is Cogito ergo sum. That's it!" (And yes, even Aquinas appears in Campbell's work).  

Campbell's look at how storytelling affects us mortals alters one's perceptions on so many levels. In investigating the greatest stories of all times, predominantly those focused on creation, god, gods, the universe - those deeply moving issues we all struggle to comprehend and understand - Campbell shows so evocatively how important storytelling is, what role it plays, and ultimately, creates guideposts for today's writers. Why does a hero have to refuse the call to adventure? Why does he have to walk through fire? What is, ultimately, so important about experiencing the hero suffer?

I will readily admit, I don't always get things the first time around. And all of this stuff may be old hat for a lot of writers, but having it laid out, discussed, chewed, dissected, analyzed, evidenced and described really helped me to see how critically important each stage of the hero's journey is not so much to the hero, or to me, but to the reader, to her emotional experience of the story I am trying to tell.

In case you're like me and need a picture to understand it all better, Campbell gives one, laying out story in its circular nature, each part labeled meticulously so that the reader can also go to the section of the book that then describes that stage.

Reading this book made me rethink not only my writing style but the way I perceive the role of story within our existence. True, talking about religious stories can do that since religions try to answer the big, huge questions, but seeing that they all try in very similar ways and how all of their stories evoke emotions in similar ways by going through similar stages was nothing short of revelatory for me as a writer.

I know. I know. Revelatory? I'm getting carried away. But here is some fact to balance out my swooning. George Lucas used Campbell's work to craft Star Wars. Star Wars! Can anyone say amazingly successful story?

I'll stop there. I promise. But if you're up for rethinking your whole concept of story, writing, the importance of storytelling to our existence, grab this book! Go for it. It is so incredibly worth it.

For more great reads to put some skip in your 2011, hop over to Barrie Summy's website. You won't be disappointed!