Saturday, September 11, 2010

On Writing: What's it all about?

From Stephen King's On Writing:
If you write a novel, spend weeks and then months catching it word by word, you owe it both to the book and to yourself to lean back (or take a long walk) when you've finished and ask yourself why you bothered - why you spent all that time, why it seemed so important. In other words, what's it all about, Alfie?

Because you're not really writing about vampires, or shapeshifters, magic users, ghosts, zombies, whatever. Or even lawyers, for that matter. All these monsters are a metaphor for something. The trick is to know what. A disturbingly high number of people go through life blissfully lacking in self-awareness. They have no idea why they do anything, and lack the curiosity to figure out the reasons. Writers are constantly asking questions about everything, looking under the surface of things for the truth and for hidden meaning. There's more going on here than just a paranormal investigator who can see auras getting mixed up with a sorcerer who summoned a demonic entity. So what is it? What are all these monsters a stand-in for, and what is fighting monsters with magic all about? A writer may never want to share publicly what all this craziness is really all about, but they know. They know exactly what part of themselves that both the monsters and the magic come from.

A writer also knows what obsessions and interests keep cropping up in their work story after story. For me, one thing is outsiders - how they function without slipping through the cracks of society, why they still give a damn even when they are told over and over they aren't good enough. For reasons I can't begin to understand, people are scared of anything too different, too foreign. I can't make sense of that, mostly because I have such a low opinion of it, but I am interested in how those that are too different manage to navigate their way through a world that doesn't want them. I keep seeing little echoes of that turning up in one story after another, sometimes just a small hint of it, sometimes as part of the main plot.

Another thing that interests me and keeps popping up in my writing is gender roles and how they're changing in the twenty-first century. My vampire in Bring on the Night is female because of this. I'm also interested in technology so if I ever manage to write cyberpunk, you'll know where it came from.

When you look at your work, re-reading scenes for the umpteenth time trying to tweak the dialogue or the action, or lie awake at night thinking about  your characters, what recurring themes do you find? What are you really writing about that you cover up with vampires and sorcerers?


Nerine Dorman said...

Definite themes that have cropped up so far are people who, either through their own actions or lack thereof, don't fit in. Their main challenges are to overcome opposition they face because of their situation, or to fight against an inexorable tide dragging them to being just like everyone else.

Story of my life, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Seems like alienation is a popular theme, but that's not really surprising since so many writers are not quite in step with the world around them.