A few posts ago I wrote about Twain's advice to "Write what you know," and how it doesn't pertain exclusively to personal physical experience, yet to transferring past emotional and mental states onto similar present conditions. Essentially, becoming method actors. Orwell makes the point in this essay that writers have one piece over their lifetime that sums up their attitude about life, referencing Dickens' Great Expectations and Sir Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather.
But I'm left with the question: Is that all it takes to compel a writer to write? These premises alone make writers self-absorbed, and even though plenty of writers have inflated images of themselves, sensitive, enlightened writers are always chasing something, grasping at some curiosity, pulling at some social thread they perceive as significant. Writing what you know provides a strong basis, but thinking about how many books end versus how they began, I'm left with the thought that writers who know the world doesn't revolve around them write about what they want to know.
A classmate of mine in my Master's program once asked the workshop something she was curious about: Are all stories mysteries? I didn't grasp what she asked until I started thinking more deeply about this Write What You Know business. Her basic point was that if we craft a story to naturally develop over time, via plot, subplot, and character growth/breakdown, every action builds an unknown future.
As readers, we love having the drama and stakes increased because we want to know what the hell happens to the characters and story. Thus, an audience will be more inclined to read a gripping story about a peanut butter sandwich than a poorly written story about love lost. Increasing the stakes naturally across multiple plot devices keeps the reader guessing, though keeps them in the story because the facets of the story are realistic. Take the most recent movie adaptation of the Titanic tragedy; everybody knew the ship would sink in the end and people would die, but millions of people saw it anyway. Why? Because of the mystery of how the characters would respond to one of the most popular tragedies of recent history. Who'd be a hero? Who'd be a villain? And how would they do it? Pushed far enough, is everyone a villain? Even though it's fiction, viewers were entranced by the unknowns revealed through the extremity of the tragedy.
Mystery surrounds us every single day considering we're one small speck upon the giant canvas of reality. Fiction exploits this through delving straight into the unknown through an ironic doorway; what is known. Stories will always start with some kind of connection to reality, which serves as the conveyor to carrying them into the unknown, into the mystery of the story, the myth. This conveyor is effective because it's laced with familiarity. I tend to think this is one of the main theme's of Alice in Wonderland; a girl living an ordinary life in ordinary reality (connection with reader's reality), follows a talking rabbit down a rabbit hole (temptation to follow a curiosity), to be completely immersed in a nonsensical world that is almost wholly alien but in need of her strength (willing venture into the unknown). Doesn't all good fiction do this in some way?
Or in other words, isn't all fiction some type of mystery?
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