Friday, January 13, 2012

Writing Love in Fiction

Odilia Rivera Santos

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

-  Albert Einstein 

Rereading this quote, I feel encouraged to posit my theories about human interaction and the fact of Nabokov's empirical findings about butterflies having been proved by real scientists fifty years after the fact.

From observing those around me, I have gleaned humans gravitate toward the familiar.
A scientist might someday discover this seeking out of familiar characteristics is built into our DNA or that behavior to which a child is exposed rewires the brain to become predisposed to be attracted to certain kinds of people.
This might have served as a form of survival mechanism with the presupposition that those who once took care of you in infancy would do so as you grow into adulthood. How well they took care of you in infancy would be evidenced by your having reached adulthood, regardless of the condition. Survival mechanisms would not be fine-tuned, considering if a child received negative or positive reinforcement or if he or she envisions positive outcomes or is a pessimist. All the fine stuff would not be considered when considering survival -- survival is the emergency room stuff. Either the patient has a pulse or doesn't.

In the most vulnerable relationship one can imagine, a romantic one, it is often the case that people choose a partner who brings to the fore the most delicate part of his or her self. The part of an individual's psyche most tender to the touch of an unkind or inelegant word.
One good example is how the most sensitive person appears to choose a partner who is callous or brusque when the sensitive individual makes him or herself vulnerable. In fiction and films, this is a popular relationship to examine; however, the dynamic between the personality leaning toward masochism and the other toward sadism is presented in a simplistic way with one being clearly the villain and the other a pious much-to-be pitied martyr.
I firmly believe there is something fascinating at work in the good and evil dynamic - being part of an individual's spiritual evolution and not merely an opportunity to reenact childhood patterns or to be histrionic.
Each character in the scenario is a wounded soul; one learned to cower and the other to attack.
It is, for the typical reader or audience member, much easier to empathize with the one who cowers because we see this person as if he or she were a child. And most would agree children should always be protected and their needs met before anyone else's.

It is infinitely more fascinating to search for the possible causes for each individual's becoming the aggressor or the traditional victim and to write each character with equal compassion and attention to detail.
The 'bad' guy is often as one-dimensional as the character in a silent film tying a girl to the tracks. His big black mustache and ill-fitting suit makes the audience wonder why this cute girl was hanging out with him in the first place.
For this power dynamic to be interesting for the reader or viewer, the writer must present a character with enough charm to draw a desirable person to him or her, and then show how this aggression is a manifestation of fear. The aggressor fears the loss of the beloved partner and also fears he or she may not be worthy of such love or attention. The aggressor seeks to diminish the partner's self-worth in whatever way possible in order to hold on. The docile party perceives aggression as a protective stance, and perhaps, it is a survival mechanism of one who feels weak: find the angry stud who can keep danger away.

In the 'partnership,' there is no true partnership because each lies in fear. But I believe, in many instances, these two people choose each other because each sees in the other characteristics necessary for the transition from survival to thriving in life and in the world. And this is a spiritual evolution in a romantic relationship. In order for writing to matter and be really engaging, characters have to become people, and people are never simplistic nor one-dimensional. There is always an extraordinary lack of self-awareness each person has about some aspect of their lives, a vulnerability he or she will choose to share with only one or two people and the desire to love and be loved.
A story has to have some kind of conflict, there's usually a villain, a hero, a beautiful woman, and if it's set in a poor neighborhood, some dirty stray cats. Film is about images, fiction is about setting and characters, and theater is about exchanges between characters -- this is an oversimplification, but feel free to write letters.

I watched Buck, a beautiful documentary about a horse trainer, and found it painful to hear the subject of the doc say he hated his father. His father was very abusive and the children were taken away by child protective services.
As an audience member, I wanted the film maker to follow the thread backwards, to examine the father's background and how he believed his abusive behavior toward his children was necessary or productive. This could go on forever, but there is often too much that goes unsaid about a character.

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