I don’t often pick writing quotes that I disagree with (okay, I can’t say I’ve ever done it, to date), but this week I thought it was appropriate. (10 Points and the House Cup to whoever can identify the thematic link between today’s Writing Quote and this week’s posts. I don’t intentionally pick a theme each week, and many weeks I don’t have a consistent theme, I just blog about what comes up, but a lot of times I’m able to draw out some common threads from most of the week’s posts. That’s one of my special powers.) So, here’s today’s quote:
The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.
On one hand, I agree that in principle, the story I’m writing “exists” – but not in the way Renard here suggests.
The idea that the stories we are writing already exist and that the characters about whom we write are real people with their own wills is a popular conceit among writers. And though I mean no offense to writers who subscribe to this way of thinking, I disagree with it pretty strongly. The characters I creat are just that: my creations. They exist only in my head. They have no independent will. When I create characters, I try to give them the traits and qualities of real people, but ultimately this is to serve the story.
I said that, in a way, the story I’m writing already “exists”. By that I mean that the pieces of the story are all already extant: the bits of mythology and history that are woven into the background, the details on how people lived, the interactions I’ve had with people throughout my life, the emotions I’ve felt, the things I’ve seen and done, and the stories that have come before me. These are like the puzzle pieces that I can fit together to make my own, unique story. But it’s a puzzle without a picture on the box. I have to decide for myself how the pieces fit together and what the picture will be. No one can do that for me.
I feel that the experience many writers share of having to follow the will of their characters or feeling forced to change the story because it demands to be changed are really something a lot closer to home: it’s the creative process working itself out subconsciously. Even if the writer isn’t actively aware of it, he or she is putting the pieces of the puzzle together. And sometimes, without realizing it, he comes to the conclusion that “Wait a minute, these pieces don’t go together at all.” That’s when the writer realizes that the story must go in a new direction, or something different must happen because one character or another otherwise wouldn’t be acting true to her character. That’s the creative process at work.
So, I find the suggestion that the story already exists in perfect form, waiting to be plucked out of the air and “copied down” denigrates the work of the writer. Writers aren’t just cloistered monks, making copies of someone else’s tale word by word. The work of a writer is hard. It’s creative. It’s to create something new from the pieces we have, to try to tell a new story. Anyone can copy down what’s already there. It takes someone special to make something new and different.