jordanrosenfeld

The Writer as…Cannibal? Thief? Voyeur?

In Craft, Musings on August 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm

It always feels unfair to me, a writer, when I can’t find the perfect word for something I want to describe. Lately I’ve been trying to come up with a word to describe the way being a writer is like, as some of my writing friends have suggested, one part voyeurism, one part cannibalism, one part thievery, and one part pure creation from the author’s own strange little universe.

Why the need to define it? It struck me the other day when a person in the real word so inspired in me an idea for a character, that I wondered how people who are not artists of some kind experience other people. I mean, I genuinely love and interact with people, and do not make friends  solely to stick them in my  novels. But I find myself exceptionally interested in people, their backgrounds, what they think, why they do certain things, and even how they carry themselves in the world. I’m fascinated with people’s forms of personal expression–from how we dress to how we talk, to the roles we publicly assume versus our more private passions or hobbies. I love to know people’s secrets, not to capitalize on them, but because it rounds them out into complex beings. When they behave badly I’m more curious than upset at first.  As my friend Erika Mailman wrote the other day, she writes to “crack the code of other people.”

I resonate with her words, and yet I find that in writing about other people, I only really crack the code of myself.

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  1. ‘When they behave badly I’m more curious than upset at first’ – yep, me too. ‘How interesting,’ I think, and ‘I wonder why they did that’? You’ve brilliantly captured the double life of the writer – at once involved, at the same time removed.

  2. Thanks, Roz. This year a lot of strange and unpleasant things have happened in my social circle, and I had to force myself out of my writer’s stance of being “in the gray area” where I simply observe everyone, and into choosing a position to support my closest friends. It was the first time in a long time I really got to see that “double life” at work in myself so consciously.

  3. Gosh Jordan, did you major in psychology too? I think your attitude about people shows that you are interested in how they tick, how the universe ticks for that matter, not that we’re going to get any actual answers to that. But in writing, we can explore the edges of people, the interiors, and we can combine the real with the fictional aspects as we wish. With memoir though it’s not as easy, as I’m sure you know. Once we start analyzing “real people” anything can happen. Great post, because yes we are all these things and we need to own up to it!
    –Linda Joy

  4. Linda, no, but I’m married to one 🙂 You’re so right about exploring the edges and combining the fictional with the real. It’s fun isn’t it?

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