The Muse Made Me Do It

Posted: June 9, 2012 in The Art of Writing

I received an e-mail that made me think. The reader’s comment was that one of my stories was “dark” (The Old Man on the Lake) and that she worried where the mood came from. Perhaps she believed I might have inherited the suicidal tendencies of the main character (Oddly enough, the “old man”). No, I explained, I am of reasonably sound mind but fading body. But I am NOT the character.

But that got me to thinking.

The term “method acting” has been around for quite some time. In that technique an actor identifies deeply with the character they portray and may recall emotions and events in their own lives in order to better interpret the character. On a deeper level, to some extent the actor may even become the character. So what does this have to do with the price of riceballs and soy sauce in China?

I think I am a “method writer”.

I do not become the character by any means. But what I attempt to do is crawl inside of the character’s skin and look out through their eyeholes. I try to see what they see, feel what they feel and smell what they smell (talk about ripe!). If they have pain and suffering, then so be it. If they love or hate, then that should come out in the words that hit the page. Steven King (see On Writing) says always “tell the truth”. What he means is don’t pussyfoot around and try to play nice; let the character breath, sweat, fight or even inject a dirty syringe of heroin if that what they want to do. More importantly, your job as a writer is to darn well write down your creative thoughts as fast as you can pour them onto a page. A writer needs to trust the Muse, or what some call the “true speaker”; otherwise known as the creature that lives inside of your head and ultimately leads the pen to paper (irrelevant fact: I’ve named mine Albert).

If you do that, at least you are being honest. And that’s all that a reader can ask for. 


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