Much is discussed when it comes to those of us who choose to write about things we have made up in our heads, ideally for a living, convincing a large number of people to enjoy the written down result thereof.
It sounds strange when you break it down like that, doesn't it?
1). We sit down one day and decide that we have a story to tell. It doesn't matter what age we were or what the inspiration was. The desire awoke somewhere within us.
2). We decide we are going to people this story of ours with either entirely fictional individuals or slightly altered versions of people we know.
3). Some of us decide that these events will take place in a world much divorced from our own; in the far past, distant future, or a world of our own complete invention
4). We sit down a decide all the rules and background for this world
5). We drop our characters into it to see how they behave
6). We swear blind, at this point, to anyone that might ask, that these characters are 'doing it on their own' and we're just narrating.
Now, I am biased but what does that sound like? We are documenting voices in our heads...
That's right, we are fulfilling one of the oldest of human professions!
Ever since neolithic and neandertal man and woman decided to daub paint onto the walls of their caves, people have sought to explain the world around them in abstract ways.
We started to develop stories and the storytellers to tell us about them began to emerge. We probably called them shamans or priests to begin with and they were rather highly regarded because they were able to explain things we didn't understand in an often exciting fashion.
Humans seem to like that.
You see, that's the part so often missed, every single movie and book has a message behind the entertainment, a lesson it wants to teach us or a journey it would like to us to take in our heads.
The storyteller is there to make that journey as exciting as possible so that we stay until the end.
But what does it take to be a good storyteller? The ability to make things up on the spot is probably as good a place as any to start?
The Storytelling Mindset
Uncharitable individuals may well be inclined to call this being a good liar but, in my own case, I'm a terrible liar in person. I couldn't lie my way out of a paper bag, as we say here.
Yet we do sell something that doesn't really exist for a living don't we?
That depends on how you look at it.
I talk here from personal experience and much observation so this is only my opinion here.
I think we writers, those of us who're good at least, have a fairly useful mental condition, perhaps even an obscure and mild form of autism. Let me break it down to see if it makes sense to you too;
We hear voices in our head. We put them in imaginary situations and locations to see what they are going to do.
We introduce them to other made up voices to see what they'll do and what will happen
We miss close to nothing; I have noticed things which people look at me strangely for mentioning later. Tiny details which appear to be considered inconsequential by everyone else matter to us.
We like to people watch and make up stories about those people, to explain why they're doing what they're doing, acting as they are, why they have that expression on their face.
We like to know how and why things work. I used to take things apart as a child and, unfortunately, be completely incapable of putting it back together again.
Having a mind in a constant state of flux, thinking about everything at once and not being able to force one thought to dominate or, only being able to do so with a great effort of will.
I was often told that, as a child I would stand captivated by the chromatic brilliance of oil on the surface of a puddle, I could stare at it for hours. We're daydreamers and often considered, if not odd, then vapid by other people
Occasionally, one of the made up people we have invented acts in an unexpected fashion and appears to decide that their minor role in our narrative is no longer sufficient
Vis a vis, heretoforth, and therewith, ergo and etc., the mind of a writer really does not operate the same way as what society considers normal brains to operate. Normal is to see what is and accept it, a writer sees it and challenges it, tries to make it better.
I see it simply, though really it isn't that simple.
People like to be entertained. The psychology of this is deep and much involved. They like to escape the mundane reality with their favoured brand of fantasy and escapism.
It can be looking for the unrealistic romance with unlikely partners (usually previously undiscovered royalty), travelling the stars and either interacting with or killing aliens with super-powered though still human heroes, exploring dungeons and hidden secrets with loin-clothed barbarians with large weapons, following the current Chosen One on their journey of discovery ultimately leading to the death or banishment of the Big Evil and prosperous peace for everybody else...we love it.
I read books, I watch movies, I play games, I am not immune. I sought the same entertainment since before I decided to do it myself (not for long I admit, I started writing stories, poems and songs around the age of six or seven).
It is part of the human condition I think and we are, as humans, able to be divided into two groups;
Those who want to see the world as a better place where justice is served and everyone gets what they deserve
Those of us who think that this needs a bit of help and want to figure out how w're going to make that happen
Writers, in my opinion, belong to the second group. All artists, in fact, do. Painters, musicians, comedians, poets...they're all trying to do their bit to make the world a better place for those they entertain. They all hope that their art influences enough people to affect the kind of change that they, in their heart of hearts, want to see happen.
We may not even consciously know what this change is but our writing conveys it. Our characters embody it. Our story leads readers to it. Our art expresses it.
It's a very hard thing to explain or truly understand, don't you think?
To do that, some people become politicians, some join the sciences, practise medicine, join the armed forces or become an activist against war. They seek to directly influence the source of the problems that plague them or bother them.
Others look to inspire others to do that. They present what they consider as ideals or warnings; the former to aspire to, the latter to either avoid or defeat, usually within our own selves.
You see, I am of the opinion that the Protagonist and Antagonist are two parts of the same person, metaphorically speaking. They represent the two potentials of the same person, the effects of different choices and decisions. In defeating or reforming the antagonist, the protagonist is really defeating his or her own baser, animal urges and desires. In winning the battle, they are improving themselves.
This is the journey we wish our readers to take, the lesson we wish them to learn.
Beware of this, subdue that, and become this!
Avoid that thing because this is what will happen if you don't.
Just like many of us believe that dreams send us messages about important matters or decisions, writers attempt, whether they realise it or not, to do that same.
I'm not talking the stereotype of the teacher finding meaning in a book which the writer didn't intend either; no human, I believe, is capable of writing without a piece of their own soul bleeding into the words.
Whether we realise it or, we're writing for a reason other than just letting the words spill out.
So, writers are a little different, we accept that and are, usually, fully aware of it.
Not necessarily the stereotypical painfully introverted people avoiders or followers or certain fashions either. Like normal people, we come in all shapes and sizes. We do view the world differently, though, there's no escaping that.
We see something in our world and want to change it, to help inspire others to make it happen. We may even crave the recognition and attention though not always consciously.
We are certainly different, whether the 'writers condition' (I cannot speak for other artists but I imagine it's similar for them) is a mental condition, a different plan followed in wiring the brain or whether it's simply a matter of environment and personality doesn't matter ultimately, although I am convinced of the former.
I am certain that the unquenchable deserve to tell stories and be inspired to do so by what everyone else considers inconsequential events is built into our brains from birth, it's who we are and will never change.
We could no more stop than a bird decide, one day, to stop flying everywhere for a change.
The first rule of being a writer is that, if it's in you, you HAVE to write.
Don't let other people negatively influence you not to. If that story doesn't work, you will find another one.
Don't think you have to write a certain kind of story or genre because it's popular or what your friends are doing. You don't find your story, it finds you and, I assure you, when it finds you, you will know.
Your message matters, your passions matter, your story will become reality once you surrender to them.
Those characters writing themselves? That's just your story making sure that it gets written properly, your message ensuring it is adequately communicated.
Do not let your own fears overpower your message or dilute it. You don't need to write what others think you should write or what is considered correct to write. The popular themes and topics may or may not be true to you; forcing them in will only block your message.
If you are suffering from writer's block, ask yourself this, is it because you are trying to write what you think is expected rather than what you want?