Friday, February 03, 2006

Depth of Feeling

[Fourth try to get Friday's post up...]

One of our main tasks as writers is plump the darkest depths of the human psyche. Even if that level of psychology and emotion isn't the main thrust of the story, one could argue that the most meaningful stories -- at some level -- are driven by the psychological pain of the protagonist. The greater the pain, the greater the desire, the greater the conflict. Your character may really want something, but if the situation is not causing him serious emotional distress, then he doesn't want it bad enough to make a really good story. Suppose he doesn't attain his goal. Will he survive (mentally or physically) the failure? If the answer is yes, then he doesn't want it bad enough.

But I wonder, is it necessary for the writer to have felt that level of psychological pain to be able to carry it off on the page? I'm not sure. We all hear about the tortured souls who write Pulitzer Prize literature. After all, you aren't an artist if you aren't suffering, right?* There may be some truth about that. "Write what you know" has become a trite truism, but it's a truism precisely because it is true. If that's the case then, do writers need to experience depression and other forms of psychological pain in order to write about it convincingly?

And if so, is it worth it? Life is about balance, after all. Obviously, I tend to believe that you can be happy and still write good stories. If not, what's the point? Remember, if you aren't having fun, you aren't doing it right...

*Old critiquing line: If the writer dumps too much of the background he has meticulously researched on the reader at one time, this is referred to as "I Suffered For My Art. Now It's Your Turn." :)

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