Sunday, July 26, 2009

Separating the writer from his writing...

Some of the things that I write are a tad bit odd. Okay, maybe that's an understatement: f'ing weird would be a better way to put it. Sometimes what I write surprises myself, especially after letting it rest for a while and then picking it back up. For example, in The Storm, there is a line that goes: Behind the caked blood, the matted hair, and the wide eyes that were more terrible than the red that cursed her body—there was beauty. Undeniable, young beauty. The kind that will make a grown man go out for a night of drinking to rid his mind of pedophilic thoughts. Someone actually pointed this line out to me because I wrote this story a couple months ago and hadn't read it in a while. My reaction: wow, I wrote that? What made me think of that? I guess it takes a special mind to think of certain things, but part of this post is to argue that it doesn't necessarily reflect the writer.

I want to just put a little disclaimer here. I am a BIG Stephen King fan. So if you are going to be reading my blog, you might be seeing a lot of King references along the way. Now that that's out of the way, I want to use one of his novels as an example. Close to the end of IT, a whopping 1000 page novel about an evil terrorizing a small town, there is a group of six 12-year-olds: one girl and five boys. It's hard to explain/convey the exact rationale, but basically they came to the conclusion that they needed to rebuild their bond that made them so powerful against this evil and that the best way to do that was by having sex. So they all take turns having sex with the girl. Annnnd, another, earlier part of the book involves a 12-year-old bully getting a handjob from another boy his age. Pretty disturbing stuff. What does that say about Stephen King, though? Can we state that these reflect King's own desires? I like to think that King is in tuned with the flaws of human nature. When you turn on the news or look at the paper, things like this happen. Sixth graders getting kicked out of school for having sex, serial killers, pedophiles, babies having babies, etc, etc, etc. I try to be real when I write and that involves creating some characters that have very real (and very disturbing) thoughts.

On the flip side, though, I did talk extensively with someone who knows King and they said he's a very dark man and, as anyone that knows a wikipediable amount about him would know, he's had a lot of demons in his past: struggles with drugs and alcohol. And, coincidentally, he's arguably the greatest horror writer of our time. Eh, you be the judge.

When I sat down to write this post, I thought about Stephen King's (told you to expect it) The Dark Half. It is basically the story of a writer who has a fairly low level of success with his drama novels and when he decides to start writing horror under another pen name, his books become wildly successful. Eventually, this other personality that he uses to write with takes on its own life: a murderous psychopath. It's quite a good read and is probably one of King's more action-driven works, but it is still thrilling for what it is. I guess, for me, it brings up the question of just where exactly is that line? In the book, the psychopathic killer wrote great horror stories while the 'regular' writer couldn't when he was just writing as himself. Do you have to be a little nutty to create things that are bizarre?

Well, let's take the pedophile line as an example. Last time I checked, I wasn't a pedophile. But I do know that they exist. When writing this scene, I thought...hmm, what's a real and striking way to describe her youth, but yet convey that she is still attractive? And it is about 'striking' the reader. Depending on the genre, my job is to sometimes disturb the reader, or move the reader in some way that makes him or her uncomfortable, but not in an outright way. It's the difference between whispering to someone I love you and yelling it right in their face. And I have this middle-aged man, women problems, probably has a drinking habit, so what kind of response would he have to a young beauty? Well, he's also a character of SOME morality, so he wouldn't act on it but yet he can't control his desires. That's where the metaphor comes in. Do I have such desires? No. Do I know they exist? Yes. If I did have such desires, would I probably be able to write such a character better? Arguable. While I'm a firm believer of 'write what you know' I think that the imagination is a powerful thing and that writers can build upon their experiences to make something completely different: kind of how different elements come together to create life.

In there a conclusion? I don't know. I'm a weird guy...but I say that out of knowledge that everyone is a little weird in their own ways. My weirdness is my imagination. My characters range from Joe Smoes to religious saints to rapists, killers, wife-beaters, etc, etc, etc. But I, the writer, have a helluva lot of morals, so I would ask anyone not to take things that I write as a judgement of my character, but rather, maybe, a judgement of my imagination.


  1. As a reader I expect an author to be able to tap into the so called "dark" side of the human psyche. I demand that the writer take me through the gamut of charecteristics that are apparent in most individuals. To equate a writer's propensity in describing the less appetizing thoughts and behaviours of a character to their own morals, is like implying that a painter's representation of war signifies that they are pro-war. It is absurd.

    So thank you for your explanation. But anyone with commonsense and an appreciation for literature would comprehend that the writer and the product of their imagination are not to be taken as one. I hope that your readers understand this and that they do not cry foul the next time they read something that they find immoral or unappetizing.

  2. It's always kind of funny to see each "new" writer come into contact with these kind of thoughts. Yes, there are many people who think that "if you wrote it, you live by it". People who can't differentiate between the characters and the messenger.

    It's also my experience that readers are more tolerant when it comes to violence than when it comes to sex. In my country, with a sad history of child abuse and killings, it's a very delicate subject.

    I've read your story and thought the line you wrote to be very succinct. Though at the same time I also had the impression that the girl in question is too old to warrant the use of a pedophilic comment. True pedophiles are only interested in prepubescent children, but in law enforcement they have extrapolated the term for all offenses with minors, prepubescent as well as adolescent.

    There are many girls out there who appear fully grown, but who just haven't yet reached the age of legal maturity. Are you a pedophile if you're attracted to them? I say, no.

    Perhaps a more fitting line would be something like, "The kind that will make a grown man go out for a night of drinking to avoid falling in the jailbait trap."

  3. Additionally even from a nonfiction standpoint we (the writer) can and should write beyond our own viewpoint if that is the truth. Imagination brings ideas - both fiction & nonfiction!