The writing tight-rope

Here’s something that I believe: the best stories are written from the heart.  But what does that mean?

tight rope 1Statements like that are tricky generalisations.  Do I mean that writers should always have an important message to deliver?  No, and no again.  Save me from fictional lectures, please.  That’s a blog post for another week.

What I mean by heart are stories that are rounded in the way that E.M. Forster said good main characters should be.  To read them is to exist within their reality , and when I’m writing, that’s what I aim to achieve.

Transporting someone into my fictional world is a tall order, so like most other writers, I’m always looking for the best way to do that. One method most of us try at some point is to draw from our life experiences: it fits with the principle of “writing what we know”.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Well Hilary Mantel’s take on this is worth considering:

I have sat, at moments of purest heartbreak, in mental agony, and put my thoughts on paper, and then I have taken those thoughts and allocated them to one of my characters, largely for comic effect.

The heart, she seems to be saying, should not always translate directly onto the publictight rope page.

I take the warning.  I’ve dusted off an old diary and am seeing for myself that feelings at their purest, or rawest, tend to generate ‘purple’ prose, or poetry, with plenty of comic potential.  At the time it was a form of therapy, now it’s something I could transform: I can see segments that would help to round-out my imaginative writing.

It’s good to think that some of that energy might be used constructively after all.






4 thoughts on “The writing tight-rope

  1. As a bloke I am often considered to have a very narrow emotional vocabulary. When I do attempt to express feelings on paper I find that the prose comes out purple, just as you report in your old diaries, Cath. Pieces that I have written years ago are cringe-making today. Perhaps putting them into a comical setting would reduce that effect. A common reaction to my everyday utterances is that I make light of everything and try to make a joke of it all – consequently I am often not taken seriously.
    If deep feelings are made comic does the reader still share the emotional angst? Do they see through the comedy to the weeping clown beneath the make-up?
    Do you trust your readers to do that? Or do you write for yourself and hope the readers get it?

    Thanks for the post Cath – I enjoyed it and I really don’t expect answers to all the questions 🙂

    (By the way, E M Forster is a great source to quote ….. I am tempted to link Dave Kingsbury’s recent email problems to one of Forster’s short stories, but that would be a bit too much like nagging – so I won’t.)


    • As a big fan of Mary Poppins, I advocate a spoonful of sugar as the best way to disguise all metaphoric medicines, and opt for comedy where ever possible. As to the rest, so long as they enjoy the read, should we worry if your reader takes away a different message?


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