In celebration of the Fourth of July, for my fellow citizens of the U.S. (and also of Canada Day late last week), I thought I’d share a quote from novelist Don DeLillo, best known for his book Underworld, an epic about the Cold War. Since it’s been a bonanza of independence days, this week, I thought I’d find a writing quote that muses on the theme of Freedom. And here’s a good one.
Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.
~ Don DeLillo
This kind of touches on the whole idea that writers write because they have to, because that’s who they are. But I like the take on it that it’s about personal freedom and identity and salvation. In particular, the themes of freedom and salvation are very interesting, to me.
As a writer, you have to be willing to go to very dark places. You have the freedom to explore that darkness (and the freedom to explore the light). The willingness to go there is important because that dark place is a part of human nature – as is that lighter place. And how can you understand your characters, how can you explore their story, if you’re not willing to follow them into those places.
In the real world, those dark places can be cages and prisons. But a writer can be free, and by extension we all can be free, because the writer is not bound by the shackles of reality. And that’s where the salvation comes in. The journey of a character in a story is from a place of light down into a place of darkness and back again to a place of light. That’s the basic structure of a story, though it’s rarely put in those terms. Ultimately, though, I think most conflicts in stories can be boiled down to this simple formula: a conflict between darkness and light, good and evil, freedom and slavery. It’s all about the choices the characters make and how those choices interact with the choices made by other characters.
Okay, so, enough philosophizing for today. Enjoy your Sunday, and for my fellow Americans, Happy Fourth!