Monday, September 29, 2008

Warning: Books Can Make You Crazy by Michele Ashman Bell

Authors are an odd bunch. Some would even call us “crazy.” Sometimes we spend more time with ficticious characters than we do with humans. We laugh, cry, get frightened and experience a myriad of other emotions, all while sitting in front of our computers. Just us and our imaginations. It’s a very bizarre and magical thing.

In the olden days weren’t people like that institutionalized?

The creative process for writers is psychotic and schizophrenic and dementia-"ic", all rolled together. And those who write for the inspirational/LDS market, even try to add spiritual elements to their stories as well.

Betcha didn’t think there was so much going on inside a writer’s brain, didya?

Of course, who am I to speak for the whole writing community, but I’m willing to guess that to some degree, all writers share similar experiences.

One of the most fascinating phenomena for a writer is when the plot is flowing, the characters are acting, reacting and interacting, and suddenly you find yourself (your characters, I mean) clear over in left field, doing the complete opposite of what you were planning them to do. Yes, even authors get surprised.

Suddenly the author finds herself having to make a choice. Does she go with the new direction, letting her characters be true to themselves, or does she rewrite the scene and get them back on track according to her outline? I’ve done both. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised at the new direction the story goes, but sometimes I’m not really excited that a character is going to change course, or . . . even die (I know, scary isn’t it? But it has happened.)

Which takes me to my next point. Control. Do you have any idea how much fun it is to be able to create your own characters and plot and totally control the story? (Except when the above happens.) It’s absolutely, wonderfully, splendiferous. Since I avoid confrontation and get tongue tied in awkward situations, I am able to live vicariously through my characters who always seem to have just the right thing to say at just the right time. Or, they get to travel to exotic places and do daring and crazy things that I would never do, except through my characters. I love it!

For me personally, writing is very visual. Remember the psychosis I referred to at the beginning, yea, well, the truth is . . . I see in my mind what I am writing. It is as if the movie is playing in my head and I am just recording onto the computer what I’m seeing. (Don’t call 1-800-YERNUTS just yet). I guess you could say, “I see dead people.” Actually, I mostly see live people, and all sorts of people, and places and events and all the details too. I can even imagine the smells and tastes and noises. (Not all crazy people are dangerous. We use our writing for therapy too, which is another blog for another day.)

Every writer approaches the craft differently. Some have a detailed outline (me) and some shoot from the hip and just go with their gut. I revise the daylights out of my manuscript, and some get it right the first time (I hate these people – just kidding. No, I actually do.)

Writing is an awesome experience and every day I am amazed at the mind’s ability to create and imagine. And the really even more amazing part is that a reader can take the words a writer has written, and re-create the story in their own mind. Then, just as it is visual for me to write, it becomes visual for the reader to read. It’s all very wonderful and mind-boggling. Of course, this visual reading experience explains why movies made from books are rarely as good as the book. You can’t get into the character’s head or heart in a movie like you can in a book. The people and places you imagine as you read the book aren’t always the same way you imagined them in the movie. (For instance the Edward in the upcoming Twilight movie is SO NOT the Edward from my mind.) But, on the other hand, that’s what makes a book so magical and personal for each reader. What starts with the author’s imagination, ends with the reader’s imagination. What became real for the author, becomes real for the reader.

So I guess what I’m saying is, craziness is contagious. And you get it from books. Isn’t that wonderful! Bless all the crazy authors and their wonderfully, equally crazy readers. Together we really do make magic happen.


Annette Lyon said...

You had me at "splendiforous." :)

One of my kids recently asked how I can write stories, and I told her what you said--that's it like writing down the movie I see in my head. Suddenly she ran off and wrote her OWN story.

Writing is a bit on the nutty size, but if I'm crazy, I don't want to be sane!

Jeri Gilchrist said...

"1-800-YERNUTS" I laughed my head off. Well Michele, you just confessed things I have never admitted to but you were spot on in describing the whole writing process. Your blog was entertaining and it made me laugh. You're right, in the end it's all magical. :)

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Michele, that is priceless! You've nailed it all perfectly. I'm so glad I'm not alone in my crazy.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...
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Jennie said...

Love it, Michele.
Books, my favorite kind of crazy!

Cheri J. Crane said...

Wonderful blog Michele. I think I live at 1-800-yernuts, though. ;)This is a secret.

susan corpany said...

Michele, I just wrote my Meridian Column on this very thing, and then tied it in spiritually, of course. I even related a "conversation" I had with one of my characters when he decided to take a book in a different direction than I had planned.

Great blog!