Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The role of self in authorship.

(Which hopefully does not come off as pretentious as that sounds in my head)

Part of a series. Part 1 (on songwriting) is here, part 2 (on fiction) is here, part 3a (on GMing, or otherwise creating scenarios) is here, and part 3b (on playing RPGs) is here.

"Write what you know."

For advice so freely - and frequently! - given,  there's a lot to unpack here. For the author, it's a clarion call to draw on one's own life experiences. Musicians, poets, artists and creators of various stripes are frequently and ardently encouraged to put themselves into their work. Which is great, right up until it's dreadful.

Sometimes, a song is so specific to its writer, that it becomes difficult to find any kind of personal resonance with its listener. Sometimes a game is designed according to its creator(s) idea of fun, which seems to align with pretty much no other living thing. And of course, gods preserve us all, there's always the dreaded Authorial Self-Insert, lurking around every corner, waiting to show us how awesome they are.

So, how much of you is too much?

I'd love to give a pithy reply here that elicits a laugh, if it doesn't exactly answer the question at hand. Fortunately - for everyone, as pith is hardly my strong suit - the issue is a bit more complex than that. Drawing purely on my own experience for a second - write what you know, yeah? - I've found that my answer differs greatly depending on what I'm doing at the time:

  • In songwriting, I trend towards mythic abstraction when talking about myself, and usually don't
  • In writing an RPG adventure, I tried to keep myself completely out of matters
  • In editorial work - like say, a blog - I'm right up in front, hanging out with the reader
  • In PR work, I'm miles away, deliberately trying to put someone else in there instead
... and so on. 

But even in myself, there's a lot of variance. And in observing other creators, both more and less "professional" than myself, I see this too. And more to the point, we often shortchange ourselves in creative endeavors; not just by putting too much of ourselves into things, but frequently, by withholding ourselves from our creative output.

There's a lot here, so what I'm gonna do is break this down into a couple different posts, differentiated by subject matter. So if you want to hear about songwriting and playing an RPG, you absolutely can, but if you're just interested in narrative fiction, you don't need to hear about the other bits. For convenience's sake, I'll update this post with links when the other articles go live.

Until then, here's a quote from Orson Scott Card on the topic:

No two authors would ever tell a story the same way, because no two people ever care about and believe in the same things to exactly the same degree. Every story choice you make arises out of who you are, at the deepest levels of your soul; every story you tell reveals who you are and the way you conceive the world around you--reveals more about you, in fact, than you know about yourself.

Till next time