For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Digging Deep: Writing Character

'Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.'
C. G. Jung

Secrets are fertile ground for writers because they lie at the very heart of character. Conjuring images of dark musty cupboards rattling with bones, and of snakes slithering through wood piles, secrets are framed in silences. Adept at creating conflict, secrets are embedded within personal and family stories; the unspoken, the prohibited, the places we fear to tread. When these secrets are released they strike us at our core, but then most likely we will end up asking: So what? Was that all? You see, the danger of secrets so often lies not in their content but in their very existence. Secrets have a way of passing down from one generation to the next, growing, deepening, poisoning; the silences around them creating gaping chasms between people and between generations. Sometimes we accidentally stumble over a secret but generally it takes courage to chase one down and look it in the face. It takes a profound need to break free of a pattern and to take a close look at who we really are.

My first novel, Gathering Storm is about secrets, the corrosive sort that are passed down from one generation to the next, while my new novel, Flight is about the secrets we carry within ourselves, just out of reach of our memories, secrets that manifest in the forms of patterns of behaviour, unconsciously repeated over and over until we are forced to stop and face what we are evading. Mythologist, Joseph Campbell believed that the slaying of a dragon in a story is a metaphor for inner change, for facing those things within us that we are most afraid of. The plot then is a metaphor for character development. The outer passage of a story incidental, the inner passage fundamental. The outer passage the costume, the inner passage the essence. There is a tension there, because whilst the outer journey often follows a linear sense of time by moving into the future, the inner journey is often a series of movements into the past, not a straight line but a thematically choreographed dipping into memory. This inner journey uncovers the fragments that motivate a character's actions and creates an opportunity for the character to eventually heal a wound.

There are many metaphors for the journey of a character in a story. Alchemy is one; that fiery process of turning lead into gold. Or there's the symbolism of death and mystical resurrection, the shamanic descent to the underworld, followed by magical flight, the journey into the labyrinth to face the monstrous within us and the thread with which we find our way back out once again, forever changed. All of these are metaphors of transformation, something which begins to occur to varying degrees in a story when a character turns to face the unknown or the unremembered. But transformation is a process, not a product, it is perpetual and vital. As with life, in story there are turning points, moments of catharsis, of understanding, followed by periods of integration of that new knowledge.

In Flight, Fern's must retrieve and release lost memories in order to become whole again. Paralleling the quest of the hero in ancient mythology, Fern's journey through the wilderness is symbolic of the journey into the labyrinth, or the underworld. A place where fear is faced and inner change happens. Flight is a metaphysical novel in which the classic narrative patterns of the adventure story and the spiritual journey are intermingled. Since the time of humanity's first storytellers, the unnamed shamans, we have told stories that document the journeys of the soul, sending our characters deep into a literal or metaphoric underworld in search of purpose and meaning in their lives. In Flight, Fern takes her first reluctant steps in an odyssey, embarking on a dangerous journey that will eventually bring her face to face with her deepest fears. As Fern herself soon discovers, in order to fly, one must first be willing to fall. That is, after all, the nature of story, an invitation to journey, to adventure, to remember who we really are, something that is summarised so beautifully by TS Eliot in Four Quartets,
'We shall not cease from explorations
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.'

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

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