izhilzha (izhilzha) wrote,

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"It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin . . ."

Some more thoughts on writing and story, in the wake of Deathly Hallows (but no spoilers here).

Storytelling is both a craft and a way of life, although that's not really what I'm writing about here.

In the sense of the craft, I see two types of writing that prevail in our culture: idea stories, and stories of experience. (These are not lines drawn between genres, generally, though modern "literary" novels are usually of the later kind.)

Idea stories are the ones that present us with something wondrous, something really cool to think about, something to make us marvel or contemplate or debate. Science fiction, especially "hard" scifi like Asimov or Neal Stephenson, tends to fall into this category. So does true myth and fairy tales--George MacDonald's "The Light Princess" would be nothing without the idea of the princess who is cursed to not be bound by gravity (in any sense of the word). Some psychological or philosophical fiction (Dostoevsky, anyone?) could also be called "idea" stories, although these tend to cross into the other type.

That would be what I think of as experiential stories: the ones that tell us "what it would be like" to live through a situation or live in a different society or live with a disability or disease or hardship (or joy!). Teen or YA "problem" books are the most obvious example: they encourage teens by showing them characters figuring out how to live with various life issues. Retold fairy tales (Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen) are often like this, too, bringing the stories closer to our own experience--or our experiences closer to the fairy tales.

And, of course, we have fan fiction, which is often purely this second type: what was going through Jack's mind during that conversation with Daniel in "Abyss"? What happened between these two scenes to cause the Doctor to change his mind?

I write a lot of the second type of story. My first response is always to want to climb inside a character's skull, see a situation from a different point of view. I enjoy reading some of those stories, and most of my fanfic falls into the same category (even stuff with some external action, like "Sua Sponte").

Otoh, I love reading idea stories--fantasy and scifi are two of my favorite genres. And when I do get really interesting ideas for a story, that's something I want to write and easily get excited about working on.

Maybe it's that duality within myself that sometimes bothers me. I often feel that experiential stories are worthless unless they're part of an idea story. Or, at least, that being gifted in experiential storytelling isn't nearly as brilliant as being gifted in sheer story.

Many of the books I have most loved, the ones that have had the most influence on my life, have somehow managed to be both. Lewis, Perelandra; LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea; L'Engle, A Wind in the Door; Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion.

J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter series.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

These don't just have both ideas and the sense of experiential reality, though I would argue both for the effect they have had on myself and other readers. Each of these has a further quality--a sense that here, in this story, something of the best of what the author has to say has been distilled and set forth. Tolkien once said, of LotR: "It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other."

Experiential writing is good for the kind of work I want to do in television. Idea writing would be good if I wanted to write genre TV, or create my own shows.

But sometimes I'm overcome by the longing to produce my own masterpiece. Something that could only come out of my own self, in my own words, though I have no idea what that would look like right now. I want to give whatever I have to give, to the world, to others. I want to write my LotR, my HP.

I long to write, in my own life's blood, a story to change the world.
Tags: books, contemplative, godstuff, lotr, my fics, quotey, writing

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