Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ad infinitum

To each question, a question as an answer: How much of ourselves do we inject into our writing? How much can we, without undermining the illusion of our fiction? Are our character's thoughts our own? Do we even have our own thoughts? How honest should we be? How honest can we afford to be with ourselves? Recently, a correspondent posed this question to me via email:
I have run into a bit of trouble with one of my characters in [title withheld], in that he is becoming too familiar, too much like myself. The more I write, the more I try to get away from this, the more I find in common with him. I feel like I'm caught in a trap, and every move I make only serves to ensnare me further.

Encountering this problem on my own, my first instinct is to abandon the character and start over. But then, I always do things the hard way. So what, then? What is to be done when you discover yourself wandering amidst your own work?

I confront this problem with uncomfortable regularity in regards to this weblog. When asked if I write from experience, I reflexively say no. And I mean it. But to be honest with you, I have no idea how much of myself actually goes into my writing - this or otherwise. I tell myself that it is all a work of fiction, but do I really have any way of knowing that for certain? In his autobiography, Italo Calvino wrote:
Biographical data, even those recorded in the public registers, are the most private things one has, and to declare them openly is rather like facing a psychoanalyst.

I see the weblog, as a near perfect medium in that it is, in a way, authorless, working best when the reader does not know me, has no reference point by which to set his or her compass, and has no way of attaching the author to authored. I can say what I like and you can either read it or not, enjoy it or not, but you can, in no way, attach any sentimentalities to the words. But I can, and those who are familiar with me can.

Perhaps, all writing is a mirror held up to the author, and to deny this might be irresponsible. Do we use characters as a firewall of sorts, something to hide behind, allowing us to test the waters of a sea otherwise off limits to ourselves? To be certain, I do not have the answers to any of the ten questions put forward in this piece. The closest I can come is to answer each with yet another question. And that question with another. Ad infinitum.

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