Thursday, May 15, 2008


Writing Love

I once posted a question on a message board asking people how they "wrote love." I was specifically interested in learning how writers grappled with illustrating love, without falling back on the old Hollywood trope of a contentious couple that fights and fights, only giving in to passion and a happy ending late in the fourth act. No one had much of an answer.

So I was intrigued to read the Independent's interview with four writers on writing about love in fiction. After 3 rather cerebral answers, which I found myself skipping, I was drawn in by Nicolas Fargues' response. He summarized love in his personal life: a divorce after 10 years, an unexpected new love and powerful emotion. Of the experience, he writes:

For the first time in my adult life, my emotions turned out to be more powerful than my capacity to express them, to hold them at a safe distance. For the first time, literature took second place to life.

(The italics are mine and, yes, Fargues is French.)

Fargues goes on to reflect what it all meant to him, as a writer and a person.
The success that my book achieved led me to ask basic question and to understand some very simple things. First, there is no secret: you will touch more people with your heart than with your mind. I also understood that the way to achieve universality was to be yourself authentically and unsparingly. Try to become yourself, try to find the words that will bring you closer to yourself and therefore to others, to the readers to whom you give your words as a gift and thus reveal the universality and humanity we all share. Therein lies the essence of literature, it seemed to me, as well as its major challenge.

Most writers I know are nervous about the idea that personal experience is necessary for material. We think of ourselves as observers, happiest when we are tucked away, taking notes, (mental or otherwise), out of the line of sight. And yet, when pressed, most will admit to each other that at some point personal experience does get refracted through the lens of fiction. We just don't want anyone to know that.

Writing is tricky. A lazy mind will show up in uninteresting prose, poor usage or just flat out boring and trite characters. The brain is important. And yet some of the most celebrated books, to my mind, are dazzling tricks of the intellect that just don't move my heart. How hard and rare it is for the head to fuse with the heart to produce a complete work of art. I would argue--in this very general, allowed-on-a-blog-sense--that most writing struggles to put all the pieces together, and succeeds so rarely. Oh, but when it does!

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