This train of thought started with a conversation on the Broad Universe Face Book page, and inspired an entry in my Live Journal. The thread went something like this: We writers draw on experiences of reality and cook them down into a soup from which we then reconstitute characters and situations. The result can sometimes be unsettling.
Sometimes we really can’t be sure where the dividing line is between the real and the imaginary. Most of us have had that conversation with the friend or family member who is convinced that a character is based on them, and how could we present them in such a negative light?
The worst part is when you are asked to explain “where you got that” or “did you mean to say that.” Sometimes we just can’t answer. There are a lot of conscious decisions in the writing process, but a huge part of it is iceberg effect. We aren’t conscious of what’s happening or where it’s coming from. It perks up from our subconscious. Especially in first draft writing I almost feel like a secretary furiously taking down dictation as fast as I can as it is being hurled at me by the voice behind the door. I have almost as little control over it as I would a dream. Then, in the process of revision, I discover what it is I am trying to say, and figure out the best way to say it.
So what about those things that I didn’t notice until someone else points them out? Are they my subconscious trying to tell me something? Or are they merely someone else reading into my text something that is not really there?
This could segue into a diatribe on deconstruction, but I want to go in a different direction. Back up to the first paragraph. It’s what human beings do all the time. Not just writers. All of us. We take the sum total of our experiences and create the narrative of our lives.
We may not articulate that narrative in book form, but we tell the story to ourselves. We observe the actions of others, interpret their motives, imagine their feelings, all based on what we have experienced ourselves. We try our best to make these narratives believable, not only to ourselves, but to others. When others challenge our narrative, we defend it, just like an author defending her plot line. Or, we begin to question it, re-examine it, as an author would in response to an effective critique.
The reason we authors get such vivid impressions of our characters as real people is because we are paralleling a process we do in everyday life with people who really do exist. We try to anticipate their actions and deduce their thoughts, their behavior in certain situations, based on the character we have created of them in our heads. Often, they surprise us.
Most of this takes place on the subconscious level. Even our main protagonist, ourselves, is a character we have created in our imagination based on our experience of ourselves. And we do sometimes surprise ourselves with what we say and do, because so much of the plot is being composed not by our conscious minds, but by our subconscious. We ride along, perched on the tip of the iceberg, reacting to what comes up from the murky depths.
Although we cannot remember every detail of our past, it has all had an effect on us. Our impulses, our intuitions, our motives, are not always clear to us. It’s as if we are being directed by some unseen force. The unconscious author of our personal narrative is at work. When we reflect on that narrative, it is rather like the process of revision, trying to discover who it is we are trying to be, and figuring out the best way to be it.