Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mourning Pages, using life experience for fiction

Odilia Rivera Santos

Write what you know! is a comment often stated by people who have reached the top of the mountain -- actually making a comfortable living as a writer. However, when a writer conflates write what you know! with Oprah circa 1990s, the fiction can get lost in a confessional mourning journal in which characters never take shape and the writer's voice comes through too loudly and too clearly in the voice of several people who are just stating the writer's pain and suffering in loose details.
For a lot of artists, the act of creation is therapeutic and cathartic -- all good things. But writers have to remember the work of fiction is for a reader and that piece of 'fiction' chock full of personal suffering may lose its structure in search of empathy or pity from others.
I read in a Buddhist journal that a teacher, to avoid becoming overbearing, should not be the hero of all of his or her stories, and I would say this applies to the writer who writes in the first person and is writing an unveiled autobiography posing as fiction.
Writing autobiographical essays, especially for those who have had a particularly challenging childhood and life, is a great way to purge the creative system of an overabundance of self.
The purge of self helps a writer differentiate characters and create a work of fiction, which may have one character who is purely the writer telling the his or her story, but the confessional is cut down to size when placed in context among other characters who are alive as well and able to display themselves along with the vagaries of life. Diminishing one's personal details and suffering a bit makes the story more balanced and transforms a flat character who is in many ways yelling look at me into a real character acting in the world of a real fiction.


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