I am sometimes a little despondent that I will unlikely ever be able to do certain things, achieve certain dreams, or accomplish any number of secret wishes or desires. Most things, at least the things I dream about, are not really outside of my grasp but are simply unlikely due to my circumstances and unwillingness to change them. Either because of laziness, earlier life choices, or lack of enough will, I find there are many things I may not do or experience. But I thought of something the other day that made me think I might have found a loophole, and that is, that I can write about them.
I have never been all that keen at writing fiction, choosing instead to spin yarns about the things I actually experienced or at least had opinions about. They were largely reality-based and concerning things I had done or seen. But now I am thinking of writing about things that never happened as a way to amuse myself and allow me to live vicariously through the worlds I create.
I am forever having little epiphanies which would seem somewhat obvious or pedestrian to most people, but in my mind can often lead to unexpected places, even for me. This might be one of them.
I have written in the past about my experiences with hobbies and the like, where I found far more entertainment in reading and writing about a thing, than actually doing it. For instance, I like all the accouterments of fly fishing, love the clothing and the gear, the whole Norman Maclean-inspired romanticism of it all, but really have no interest in spending the time to learn how to fish properly. Nor do I have any interest in allowing my feet to freeze while simultaneously sweating from my chest, simply in order to catch a fish I have no interest in eating, and probably wouldn’t be allowed to if I did. But I could write a story about someone who cared to.
I used to work for a guy who was convinced I was much more emotional than I am, because I could write in a way that caused one to have an emotional response. Even after I explained that it was just a skill, a muscle I could use, and not necessarily indicative of how I felt, he continued to believe that I was simply hiding my true self. It’s a bit like a fan believing an actor to be the character he has seen and loved on-screen. Sometimes we’re just playing a part.
Like an actor, I’m sure I’m always bringing something of myself to anything I’m writing about. I’m tapping into some emotional core that I either believe or understand, but I may very well be doing it for effect, rather than a deep-seated belief. That said, I’m not nearly as manipulative as some others might think either, not acting out purely for effect. It’s probably, most often, someplace in the middle.
Comedians will tell you that a joke is a construct of words and ideas that a skilled comedian will use because they know they can get a laugh at the end of it. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how they feel about a subject, although it’s probably in there somewhere. At the same time, they can certainly express strong opinions in a way that will also get a laugh. The difference might be, that a comedian will change their approach for a bigger laugh, and not let their own personal opinions get in the way of a good bit.
I’ve always thought of fiction as fairly plot-based, even though it’s the characters I focus on. I like creating people and putting them in the world, but I wasn’t ever sure I knew what I wanted them to do. I had no story I wanted to tell, that would get them from point A to point B. I have written short pieces that I began with a very basic premise or situation and just let it go where it wanted, and that was fun, but it wasn’t going sustain itself for a novel. So I didn’t sit down to write anything, because I didn’t know what the story would be.
But what if I didn’t focus on the story, and instead created characters that could have the experiences I wanted to have and allowed them to explore the fantasy of that experience without having to deal with the splinters that obviously come with real life. This would be a way for me to do all the things I wanted to do, to create the worlds I wanted to explore, simply by writing about them.
One of the downsides of a strong imagination is that I can work things over in mind to the extent that by the time I’m done thinking about them, I’m done with them altogether. Often it becomes apparent, that I only ever really liked the idea of it, not the reality. I can write about what I think I will love about them and completely get it out of my system.
Or so I believe.
There is an old adage that you should write what you know because you will be more likely to create something authentic. But the truth is I think you should write about things you give a shit about. Things that inspire you or make you curious. Fantasy can be far more powerful than mere experience. It is not necessary to have lived in space to imagine what that might be like. Ultimately, we don’t need to know what life would be like for everyone who lives in Paris, but only for one person, in one corner of the world.
I was working on a story not long ago and spent the better part of a day researching a small town in rural Oklahoma. It was fascinating. I found archival photos and histories, drove the streets using Google Streetview, and ended up with a pretty good idea of what life would be like there. Not to the degree that someone who had grown up there, but you would probably buy it. I still think about it from time to time, as if I actually spent some time there. I can almost tell you what the theater in town smells like, if you sat quietly in the balcony by yourself in the dark, in the middle of a hot summer day.
I’ve always felt I could create a realistic world based on what I know of the human condition. But now I’m thinking of using it as a tool to go places I want to go, live lives I want to experience, hold jobs I will never hold, and live in homes I will never see. What will they do? Oh, something interesting. They always do. People are crazy after all.