It’s a contemplative day in life when you realize you don’t have abs to spare. Or any abs at all. When you’re just a squishy tummy that cats like to sit on.
A squishy tummy with a brain, because while I may not have abs to spare, I certainly do have ABS to spare. A.B.S., or Angsty Backstory.
Angst (n.): an intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil
Backstory (n.): a history or background created for a fictional character
Now, before you judge me for regressing into tweenage blues, let me explain. Regardless of your current-day characteristics, you have experienced emotional turmoil in the past; that is simply a fact of humanity, that we always seek the ups and downs to map out the full spectrum of living. Whether this is through direct or indirect experiences is up to the individual. That is what I mean by angsty, those factors for physical, intellectual, or moral change, not OMFG parents wont lemme stay out until 9 parents sux.
In Creative Writing II, we are working the Fiction unit from the literal beginning: Your character is a child, make it happen. How old is this child? Who does this child live with? Does this child’s surroundings affect his or her view of the world? What does this child believe in? And beyond (or beneath– depends on how you look at it) those, does this child like hot or cold weather? How does he or she turn the pages in a book? Does he or she wear socks to sleep?
As a self-identified fiction-writer, this is well within my comfort zone. I name my character (Delilah, or Lilah for short), develop her voice (she’s eight years old, and tries to act more mature like her older sister, whom she admires very much), and decide on her surroundings (parents are divorced, live with Mom, older brother, and older sister). I cocoon myself in bed and think that Lilah likes hot weather because hot days are brighter and she can see more; she separates the pages by the top right hand corner because she doesn’t want to get spit all over the book; she sometimes goes to sleep with socks on because she forgot but always wakes up with them kicked off and lost in the sheets.
Here is where I hit a rut.
There was no way I could keep on going with Lilah’s character if I didn’t know about her family, the people who have influenced her: Why did Lilah idolize her older sister instead of her brother? What are her feelings on her father? Of course, those raised further questions: What are Lilah’s siblings like? Why did her parents get divorced in the first place?
Maia introduced to us the “Why” game, where one continues asking “Why?” to every answer to every question. She intended this to be a source of inspiration, I think, fleshing out the little details so that we can sink our teeth into one and blow it up to a full story. Little did she know this was to be my Downfall.
Now, I know everything about everyone (I can feel my hair growing bigger as I write). I know the older brother’s name is Allen and he likes arts and crafts and really doesn’t care for judgment, I know the older sister’s name is Chris and she hates being called Christina and she’s the student body president of her high school, I know the mother divorced the father for making a decision she couldn’t bear to make, I know the father remained desperately in love with the mother until the day he died. I also know that want to write a short story about what Lilah thinks about her Mom’s smile. But what about everything else? Where do I include the fact that Chris’s favorite animal is the arctic fox? How about that Dad knew how to tap dance? What about when Allen sold his first commissioned painting?
And that’s what hurts the most (Cascada, hello 8th grade-dance flashback), to take this character that you’ve detailed all over, and presenting only a sliver. And it’s never the sliver you want. You move the spotlight over onto one part for an easier perspective, and one character’s arm gets lost in the shuffle. You point out everybody’s eyes, but you miss all of their mouths and ears. You want to talk about the shapes, but you have to do so at expense of the colors, the composition. Sure, you can try your darn best to show everything vital, everything that makes up the whole of your work, but it’s the fine line between fitting everything snugly into a suitcase and stuffing your shirt inside your mug which is inside your jacket pocket. It makes me infinitely sad that you can’t know the entirety of my babies’ stories within one piece of writing.
I guess, though, that’s another fine line to tread, between the raw inspiration and the refined outcome. What do I want my audience to know, the telling of my characters’ emotions, or the showing of my art, portraying a moment in their lives? The answer is, of course, clear, as it is my self-decided path of a Creative Writer. It’s a sacrifice I– and most other fiction writers, I dare to say– have to make.
Of course, I can also write the stories, then write essays about my stories under a pseudonym. What do you mean, pathetic?