Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writers are the real undead

The enduring popularity of vampires, and the resurgent popularity of zombies, doesn’t surprise me. The writers cranking these stories out are vampires and zombies. Write what you know, you know?

I’ve been asked on several occasions where I get my characters. I never have a good answer, because there’s never a single person to which the questioner can easily relate. I bite off a piece of this guy or that girl and create something new from the parts (Frankenstein’s monster-like, but I digress.) All writers, fiction or non, feed on others. Especially the brains. Mmmm brains.

The term ‘picking your brain’ is gross, illustrative and invented by a zombie writer planning to do just that. (The origin of the term is unclear, but it was a writer. We know that for sure. Somebody put the phrase together, which is the very act of writing.) All writers pick other people’s brains because, contrary to the impression we’re be trying to leave at the cocktail party, we don’t know everything. The best sniper rifle? Can you give mouth-to-mouth to a ferret? Would the doorman let up a woman wearing just a Burberry trench?

Plot, theme and story dynamic can also come from the lives of your acquaintances. I’ve seen people react to things in unexpected ways, done things based on motivations I never imagined or acted out of character, until I realized my understand of their character fell far from complete. I suck up all these moments. They’re delicious. And I’m careful never to drain the source.

It is all quite necessary. Believable writing has to draw from real life. A reader’s identification with a piece, how much he or she understands and what kind of connection forms is largely determined by accessibility. When readers see people they know, or, better yet, themselves, the in a work, the work works better. To achieve that, writers take a sip here or a nibble there and craft writing that’s alive. Well, unalive really. Good writing can’t grow or reproduce on its own. It should just seem alive. Like a zombie or a vampire. Not a werewolf. There’s no excuse for werewolves.

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