The Writer As Many Characters


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The Writer’s Chronicle, September 2012 Issue

The Writer’s Chronicle is my “go-to” magazine for perspectives that will help me grow as a writer. Simple as that. It’s a university organ, and as such it leans toward the academic approach to creative writing; still, there’s plenty of relevance, for this seat-of-the-pants writer, at least. 

In the interest of time (yours – you’re welcome), I’m only going to spout off on two article/essays that interest me in this issue. One, “Borges as Self – Toward Teaching Creative Writers,” (see what I mean about the academic approach?) by Eric LeMay begins by using the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges as an example of many people inhabiting the creative writer’s psyche, and how to channel those personality complexities into fiction. 

All fiction writers at some point realize they are not the personality when they write that they are when “in real life." According to LeMay, the creative writing instructor’s task is first to make students aware of that personality divide, and then teach them how to accept it and use it. 

A quote from the article:

“When students develop an objective purchase on that part of their identities from which their writing emerges, they become more responsible for, in control of, and reflective about themselves as writers.” (emphasis is Lemay’s)

What the author of the article seems to be saying is that, properly done, creative writing instruction also helps create a more self-aware writer (emphasis mine), hence one not prone to vomit out psychoses on the page in self-indulgent fashion. Hence these writers become better, more responsible persons by becoming better writers.

The other article, “An Epistolary Plea,” by Heather Stanfill, interests me because I use the technique – and it's a way for your many personalities to shine. If you’re not familiar, it’s the use of your characters’ letters (remember writing letters, before e-mail and Facebook?) in a novel to shine a more detailed light on your characters’ makeups. Stanfill doesn’t go into a lot of detail here, but the proper use of the epistolary technique can do in a minimum of words  what it might take volumes more to do through internalization of the characters thoughts and though dialogue and action. 

It’s an old technique, and some have made use of e-mail in recent times to modernize it. Quite rightly, I think, Stanfill writes that for the epistolary technique to work using modern communication techniques will take some doing: these use slang, too-clipped language, and a tumble of data that give little to the reader in the way of characterization. Of course, someone will, sooner or later, make revolutionary use of this old tool in our modern settings.





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