Love does not equal romance. Or at least, it doesn’t always equal romance. It certainly is part of the traditional story-telling formula, but love can be present between characters that isn’t the romantic kind.
Generally, love gets shown in two ways in stories. It’s either the aforementioned Romantic Love (the one that usually involves sex, kissing, etc.) or Familial Love (between mothers/fathers and their children or between siblings). The Greeks had words for seven different types of love, but love can come in so many shades of meaning and permutations of expression that I doubt there are names for them all. But the point I’m trying to make is that when we use the word “love” it can apply to far more than the Traditional Two of Romance and Family.
“Terry [Pratchett] was many things, but he was not a jolly old elf. I think each of us tends to take something and use that as the place where you begin making your art. If you’re going to make good art, it’s likely that you’re going to go to the place where things are dark, and use that to shine light into your life and, if you’re doing it right, into other people’s lives as well. For Terry, it was always anger. There was a deep rage in him that allowed him to create. For me, it tends to be sorrow or loneliness or confusion.”
The pat answer that I’ve often seen given by writers, either in person or via books of advice, is that their art comes from joy or curiosity or wonder or passion. The emotions referenced are often positive or at least neutral. This seems to be the more socially acceptable answer. It’s a little more unusual, even slightly morbid, to hear someone say that their art, regardless of the tone of the end product, stems from a darker source. Usually we think that your emotional state should match the emotions evoked by your creation. I mean, really, would you have guessed that the hilarious absurdity of Discworld stemmed from a man’s rage? It certainly surprised me.
That surprise made me stop and reflect on what emotional core drives my own creativity. While all emotions are necessary to craft a convincing piece of fiction, I was curious to know what the wellspring consisted of. Did my writing come from joy, sorrow, anger, loneliness, despair, amusement, fear, cynicism, or some other emotional core? Was this consistent or did it vary from project to project?
I’ve turned the question over in my mind, and as I trace down the central emotional motivation for characters in my various works-in-progress, I think that the answer might be fear. The main characters in Ravens and Roses, All’s Fair, Astral Rain, Rinamathair, Jewel and the Skyrunners, Moon’s Fire/Moon’s Water… almost all of them are all driven by fear of something. For many of them this fear is about losing something or someone, and almost all of them are in denial about it. Some of them manifest this by being shy and adverse to risk while others become bold and abrasive in an attempt to hide what they see as a weakness. A good portion of their narrative journey is spent recognizing that fear, admitting it to themselves or to others, and then working to overcome it. Some succeed; others don’t, at least not completely.
I don’t generally share the same specific fears as my characters, but the sensation is the same. Even though I prefer to write while feeling happy or content rather than angry or depressed, the underlying motivation is fear. It’s a little weird, since I’ve never run into anything truly dangerous in my life so far. But the sensation, be it a small, niggling sense of unease or full-blown panic, is always there. And as I think about what Neil Gaiman said in these two articles, I think that might be my fuel, the part that gives the stories and characters I create that little extra push into realism. The soul-spark that makes them come alive. Because fear, like anger or loneliness, is a universal human emotion.
I was recently given the challenge of writing about endings. How does one end a story in a satisfying way? I’m not sure if I’m the best one to ask since I haven’t finished any project of note or scope. A few of my short stories are complete, but most of them aren’t very good. However, I’ll do my best.
Stories revolve around conflict. Sometimes the conflict is very small, like misplacing your keys and trying to find them before you are late for work, or the conflict could be huge, spanning star systems and deciding the fate of entire worlds. Most stories fall somewhere between the two. Fantasy does tend to go large-scale with some kind of threat to the world or at least to the local kingdom.
A story begins usually just before the conflict is introduced. We see what is “normal” and then something happens that creates conflict for the character. They lose their job, they are taken out of slavery, they become a slave, they gain or lose a kingdom. The conflict introduced may bring them positive changes, like in Mercedes Lackey’s Dragon Jousters series. A boy name Vetch is a serf, bound to the land under a harsh master, but that changes when a Dragon Jouster comes to his home and takes him on as a servant to help tend the great dragons. Obviously Vetch will be facing a new set of challenges, but his lot has improved from his previous state of serfdom. Or the conflict could be more negative and dangerous. Richard Mayhew in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is living a perfectly ordinary life until he stumbles across an injured girl named Door. He takes care of her and she’s out of his life in less than 24 hours, but as a result, he suddenly becomes invisible to the upper world. His good deed costs him his fiancée, his job, his money, his home, his very existence as a normal person. Because of this unfortunate turn of events, he must descend into the dangerous London Below to try to get his life back.
My brain is in a weird place right now. I’m currently reading The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan and just finished listening to the audiobook version of M Is for Magic, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, and I’ve been on a real Star Wars kick after rewatching the VHS tapes of the original trilogy.
It’s very odd to have the realms of reality, dreams, and speculation all intersecting and intermingling in your head at the same time.