I write character-driven fiction. Unfortunately, this does not free me of the necessity of coming up with a plot. I remember when I was watching the movie Chasing Amy, I thought, “This is exactly how I write: I just move from one scene of people talking and drinking or eating to another scene of people talking and drinking or eating.” That said, being a character-driven writer, my focus is less on discovering what happens next and more on questions of motivation and interaction and internal pressures of conformity, expectations, and change. In my writing, I am obsessed with perception: how people see us, how we see other people, how we see ourselves, and the sometimes vast differences among those different perspectives.
I believe that it is part of the human condition to want to be seen and, simultaneously, to be absolutely petrified of being “found out” for who we really are.
What rich fodder for writing, right? But, for me, writing is inextricably intertwined with living, and the underlying questions of my stories are often the underlying questions of my life, no matter how different my characters or their circumstances may be from me. Who am I? Does that match who other people think I am? Will I be judged if I am honest about myself? Am I actually honest about myself or am I really a fraud?
I am not interested in being known by everyone, but I am desperate to be truly seen by people I want to let me in to see in return, people whom I admire and respect and love. But being seen by others means we need to work on seeing ourselves, which is difficult since the act of observation changes things, and observing yourself, questioning yourself, can kick off a feedback loop bad enough to set your teeth on edge.
I’ve recently written what I think is my first truly decent personal essay, though time will tell if it is good enough to catch the eye of a reputable publisher. What was interesting about the experience was the feedback I received about an earlier draft, which boiled down to: “Yeah, okay, but what did you really feel about this?” Oh, I thought. Right. Personal essays need to get … personal. Communication in writing comes through peeling back layers to the truest truth we can manage. It might not be the final truth, but readers know if it’s only a half truth, which is why I try hard to flay my characters open for each other and you.
All that said, I realize I’ve still said almost nothing about myself, which is what I actually meant to write about today.