Writing & The Meaning of Life

I’m not sure what pulls people to become writers.  There are easier things to do in life, but many of us feel driven to put ideas on paper and to tell a story from our own perspective.  We can tinker with what we include or emphasize, and we can tilt our fictional world to explore what interests us.

For me, one of the joys of writing is exploring some of the great WHYs that plague me.  What gives life meaning?  Each of my characters might give a different answer to that question, and that lets me look at it from many perspectives.  Are people born with certain, predetermined character traits?  And which strengths do I admire and which weaknesses repel me?  Sometimes, when I’m writing, the answers surprise me.  I might respect a passionate villain who believes in his cause while I cringe at a protagonist who whines and feels sorry for himself.   But then, what made my characters the way they are?  A sad childhood?  Unloving parents?  How much of who we are is determined by genes, and how much by environment?  Is there Destiny?  Why do some characters buckle under the slightest adversity and others rise above all odds?  I might not have definitive answers for those questions, but I can give my characters reasons and motivations for each story I write.

When we write, our beliefs, values, likes, and dislikes seep into our stories.  For one of my friends, telling lies is at the top of her list of sins.  When she paints a villain in her stories, he’s often a liar–because if he lies, he probably does much, much worse.  Betrayal is often considered one of the worst character flaws, but when I read Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence, his protagonist believes that if he cares too much about anyone, it weakens him.  And Jorg would consider himself weak if he sacrificed a victory to save a friend.  He’s very capable of betraying people close to him.  Since Jorg lives in such a violent world, though, the reader can empathize with Jorg’s view, so betrayal is still repugnant, but sometimes, it seems necessary.  As writers, we can play with what’s good and what’s evil.

I’ve heard a few speakers claim that every writer explores certain, broad themes in their works.  They repeat those themes over and over again in different settings and under different circumstances.  Do we each have a question that we’re trying to answer with our stories?  Do romance writers believe that love can conquer all?  Or that nothing in this world matters more than love?  Mystery writers reinforce the idea that justice will prevail and good will conquer evil.  Horror writers scare us because evil has a decent chance of winning and good sometimes gets trampled.  Are those the authors’ world views that are reflected in their writing?  For a friend of mine–who believes Shakespeare’s view that all the world’s a stage holds true–none of it really matters, because we each only act out whatever part we’re given before we step into Earth’s spotlight.  His stories have a temporary, what happens now only seems important quality to them.

Maybe we write to understand ourselves and our lives more.  We can turn ideas over and come at them from angles we’d never try in real life.  We can create characters we don’t like and let them push and prod protagonists we do care about.  We can study what makes each character tick, what defines him and sets him apart.  Writing is a great experiment in which we can decide what’s important and what isn’t in the worlds we create.  And just maybe, testing out those what-ifs also helps us define who we are and how we see our own world.

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