Sunday, 15 December 2013

Emotional foundations

Today I was thinking back on the post I made a few days ago about books that have had an impact on me. It was really hard narrowing it down to just five, but the main reason why is because there are a lot more books which have influenced me, all in different ways. And then I got onto thinking why.

(Warning - I do ramble on a bit here!!!)

The thing I love about books in general is how they can strike different chords. If a hundred people sat down and read a book, I'll bet they would all react differently. Some of them will see something almost personal in the pages, and to others it will just be a story. It can mean many things, depending on who is reading it; their frame of mind; the time in their lives. The thing I don't particularly like is when books are analysed to death; ripped apart to find 'meanings' - some of which could be left entirely to personal interpretation.

I had a bit of a weird love-hate view towards English Literature classes in school because of that!
 As a writer, I’m the first person to admit that my stories do have meanings in them, but more than anything, they are there for me. Most of the time, I don’t even realise I’m putting them in until after the story is finished. If anyone else sees something in a story, be it one of mine or any other, I think it’s up to them what they take from it, if they take anything at all. But I’d like to think that if something written does strike a chord for someone, it does so with the most basic of levels: emotion.
I firmly believe that no matter how many books an author writes, they can never completely sever themselves from their characters or story. For something to be convincing, you have to write about what you know. Even if the plot is the most far-fetched and fantastical thing ever, the basic emotions must be real, and the only way to do that is to admit you have experienced them yourself in some form. So a fictional story will pretty much always have a thread of reflection, homage, or catharsis – even if it’s never actually intended and only the author sees most of it.
My characters are their own people, but I will always admit I can see traits of myself, or occasionally people I know, woven slightly into them. I’ve certainly never lived Raphael's life in Blindsighted Wanderer, but I know the same kind of joy he felt, and that helped me bring his alive. The key, at least for me writing these things, is finding an emotional connection: the same one I found with other books that mean something to me. Likewise, with Tragic Silence, I’ve never been embroiled in vampirism.
The thing is, I don’t really view Tragic Silence as an overly ‘vampire’ story. I had the basic idea for it about twelve years ago, but it took a surge of very real emotions to catapult it into becoming a full-sized novel. I see Tragic Silence as a story of mental strength and endurance, that just so happens to involve vampires. In many ways, I see Blindsighted Wanderer in a similar light: a giant misunderstanding that happens to involve water nymphs.
I’ll mention Blindsighted Wanderer first. That story had been growing with me since I was a little kid, and in it I can see the same kind of response I had to things that influenced me. But the major theme for me is how people react differently to a single situation in the pursuit of their own personal happiness. Some will condemn, some will accept. The book is completely different to the context in which I learned these emotions, but I still felt them, so I saw them in the characters.
In Tragic Silence, the main character has to deal with a lot of quite intense emotions, which stem closely from the mental tangle I was experiencing myself during the first few drafts. I had two years of deaths, serious illnesses and anxiety, and a good portion of the book developed in direct response to all that. Bee and I am not the same person, and our experiences are very far apart. But I know for definite that if I’d written it at any other time, it would have ended up being a completely different story.
But, just like only a tiny piece of the author might end up as a foundation, this is just a snapshot of what went into making these books. It takes me at least five years to create a novel - The Trilogy of J'hura took me almost a decade. Besides research, most of the work is just sitting down with myself and figuring out who these characters are, and what made them that way. Their psychology fascinates me, and I can’t imagine not getting to know them and what we have in common.
On the deepest level, I think the strong responses to a fictional story all boil down to those basic human emotions. They may have only been felt once, but they leave their mark in a very definite way. There’s no reason why a reader can’t have that response to a book too.

But likewise, I think a story should be enjoyed for what it is: a story. Not everything read or watched needs to be analysed to death. Not everyone will take something from it, or even take the same thing if they do. It's all personal, no matter who it is, and I think that should be respected.

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