May 5th, 2005
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learning to write

Finished Faulkner, and onto Fitzhugh. Harriet the Spy (as per several recommendations). The contrast is not as great as one would expect, I still find myself reading passages aloud. Quotes from Dostoevsky, Aesop.
“Ole Golly says there is as many ways to live as there are people on the earth and I shouldn’t go round with blinders but should see every way I can. Then I’ll know what way I want to live and not just live like my family.”
(This is actually the perfect follow up to “As I lay dying”, for one would do just about anything to not end up with such a pathetic existence as the Bundren’s. I don’t think I am giving away too much here for those who haven’t read it.)
I have fallen into that wonderful obsessive place of being consumed by an idea. A character has taken a hold of me, not the other way around. That is how it should be, these things grow and shape themselves. I am a visitor inside my imagination. I will admit to having always been intimdated by the writing, lacking confidence in my abilities. In the past I have always tried to write the story first and let the characters evolve out of that. I would get so overwhelmed by it all, not having any foundation, not knowing how to express what I wanted to. I would often give up soon after I began.
So I decided to take another tact with it, using my strengths. I have long been excited about creating small worlds. I think that I why I like to create three dimensional characters out of paper, they become almost like live entities. I can spend days building little houses, with characters in them, giving them personalities, props and clothes. And to me they exist. I can enter into this other world for a time. So with this new character (not the illustration above), I began by creating an entire world first, not really worrying about the story too much, but letting the character live, work, interact. I’ve been excitedly taking notes, making drawings, shaping her daily existence in great detail. Pulling from my own life and way of seeing the world, but also from my favorite literary characters. And through this a story is revealing itself. If you know everything about the character, you can start to understand how she would react to situations, what would motivate her, what would scare her.
Though I have not experienced it myself, it is difficult to not make allusions to giving birth with this process. That is what it feels like sometimes. I have begun to bond with the character to such an extent, I find myself walking down the street thinking, “oh, _______ would like that.”
And as the whole thing progresses I am starting to see that while the writing is on one level important, what what is most important is that I respond to the characters myself. With whatever feelings I might have for them, love, disgust, compassion, shame, curiousity, fear. What is most important is that I feel it all, because that is in turn what I will pull out of the reader.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Not really.

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