One of the questions that is frequently posed to authors is, "Why do you write the stories you write?" If you dig into past posts on this blog, you'll see that this is a question that I've wrestled with a lot. I often deal with darkness that makes me uncomfortable. I struggle with finding the balance between exploring evil and celebrating it as a form of entertainment. I question the appropriate use of profanity, violence, or psychological torment as part of my literature. I often write things that the people I care about most not only would rather not read but might be negatively impacted by if they were to read them.
A friend who has only recently begun reading some of my writing recently asked me that question. Because she was a friend, who understands my own psychology more than general readers would, I knew that she was asking more than just a variation, "How do you come up with the stories you come up, and why do you choose to write the ones you do?" She was asking why, given the afore-mentioned struggles and challenges, I so often push ahead into writing the dark, twisted fiction that I do.
The answer I gave her on the spot was essentially a longer version of this, and I still think it's true:
I write about the kind of people that I encounter in life and that I cannot understand, and the kind of experiences that I brush up against and cannot comprehend.
She then asked a spot-on follow-up question: "Does it work?"
After laughing, rolling my eyes at myself, and pursing my lips thoughtfully, I gave an answer that can be boiled down to this:
Sometimes. It's getting there. It's a long process. But sometimes, yes. At least a little bit.
I could tell that this dissembling answer cut some of the credibility out of my first answer. My friend didn't press it too much, but I could tell she noticed that too. So I've been pondering this again, even as I work on my novel and write some minor flash fiction.
A more full, if philosophically arch, answer came to me today as I was working on some critical revisions to my novel Sublimation. Without getting into too many details, I'm trying to ensure that my main characters aren't too elusive. It was a criticism that I could not refute, and I've been making great headway in reinforcing the early character development to eliminate that elusiveness.
While working on that, though, it struck me that I like elusive main characters, because for me the moment a character is understood, the story is over.
Seeing this clearly was a new realization for me. My interest as a writer and a reader is less about character development, per se, than it is about character realization. Perhaps they work out similarly much of the time, but I am less drawn to a traditional character development arc where Tom starts out as A and progresses through a stage of B to become C at the end of the third act. I am for more drawn to an arc of discovery, in which Tom's essential core character is revealed through a spiral-like process of interpersonal articulations brought about my active plot points.
In other words, it's like a facial reconstruction. When you start out with a skull and you end up with a sculpture, you are not creating a new person; you are revealing the person that was there all along.
At first, I thought this was the new answer to the question, but it didn't seem complete. As I thought about it, I realized that when I write, what's happening is something the action of Hegelian Spirit. It's self-discovery by discovering the other and realizing that I am not that.
In other words...
Why do you write what you do?
In large part, I write what I write so that I can reveal a character and know, when it is done, that I am not that character.
I'll leave the further psychological analysis of that to others.