Tuesday, August 09, 2011

You Can't Do That

Alternate title: “You Can’t Write Romance, If You've Never Been in Love—and Other Loads of CENSORED.”

The other day, an acquaintance said to me, “You can’t write romance, if you’ve never been in love.

Whoa. Wait. Did someone just tell me I couldn’t do something? Mistake.

I crossed my arms and pursed my lips, gearing up for a PMS-induced battle. “Elaborate.”

“You’re a robot. You’ve never been in love—not real love. Whatever you write about is a lie. It’s fake, because you can’t possibly understand it. You don’t want to understand it.”

“The last time I checked, I wasn’t writing my memoir,” I said, carefully blanking my expression. “The wastes-of-carbon I’ve dated have nothing to do with my writing ability.”

“Yeah, but you can’t write something believable, if you’ve never experienced it.”

I blinked—not once, but twice—trying to process the ludicrous statement.“So, the people who write murder scenes… they’ve killed people before?” 

He scoffed, shooting me one of those you’re-too-naïve-to-understand looks. “That’s not the same thing.”


“It’s just not.”
I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation, but it really got me thinking. Is that how some people perceive fiction—assuming it’s derivative of the writer’s personal life? 

(That conversation happened after I politely declined a date. Think there was a correlation there? <.<)

It irked me. He was so adamant about it. I mean, forgive the universal example, but I doubt *Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight after covering herself in body glitter and tearing into someone’s jugular. *J.K. Rowling probably didn't base her magic on the time she waved a wand and produced twenties to wipe with. (That’s what HP royalties are for.)  

*Nothing but respect for these women. Hooray for success!

I digress.

I think, when we write romance, we call upon fragmented details from every experience in life. The slightest touch, the most genuine confession—they swirl together, forming a new entity from within the confines of our imaginations. We don’t need to call upon our own schemas to suit our characters’ needs. It wouldn’t make sense to. They’re all so different.

Likewise, when I write violent scenes, I don’t focus on the time I knifed someone outside of Target the day after Thanksgiving. (Put down the phone. I kid. We don’t even have a Target.) I conjure memories that, at one time, made me feel angry or pushed to my limits. I don’t need to concentrate on the actual events. I focus on how they made me feel and how I can use those emotions to drive my characters. Before I even realize it, the world inside my mind shifts and things just take off from there. That’s the point of having an imagination, isn’t it?

It’s fiction.
I’m telling a story.

Whew! That was one rambling vent session, wasn’t it? If you guys managed to make sense out of any of that, I commend you, my friends. ♥ 

I promise my posts will get back on track again soon.  I’ve got some ideas in the works.  Until then, feel free to rant a little. What writing misconceptions bother you?

Have a great week, guys! :)


Linda said...

One of the misconceptions I hate is that you can't be a good writer until you're older. I've seriously seen people say that if you're under 30 then your writing must suck. And that younger people don't have any life experience. So not true. I'm almost 22, and I have more life experience than some of the 40 year olds I've met. I'll admit that I still have a lot to experience and learn, but it's not like I haven't lived at all either.

Also, I've read some romances by people that I'm sure have been in love, and that doesn't necessarily mean they can write romance well. Writing what you know is good up to a point, but at the end of the day, we're writing fiction. And the last time I checked, fiction is something you make up. :)

Jennifer Hillier said...

Oooh, this conversation would have boiled my blood. We write fiction. We make stuff up. If we do it well, our readers will come along for the ride.

If the rule is that we can't write what we haven't experienced, then obviously I really am a murdering sociopathic sex addict ex-football player who teaches psychology at my local college (my three main characters in one). Right?

Great post! This conversation was definitely worthy of a rant :)

Lisa Regan said...

My whole theory is that fiction gives us a safe place to explore the extremes of our emotions. We've all experienced the same range of emotions--those are universal, they just come in different forms and different degrees. Fiction is an exploration of those degrees. You use fiction to test the limits. You don't have to experience to write about it. That's just bulldoody.

Great post. A subject well worthy of a rant!

Carrie Butler said...

@Linda - Oh, that's ridiculous. What better way to discourage the "next generation" of writers, than to suggest their writing is immature or inadequate? I think different ("irl") POVs make for ~excellent~ reading. I don't care if the author is 14 or 84, as long as it's good. :)

Heck yeah!

@Jennifer - Exactly! You murdering sociopathic sex addict ex-football player who teaches psychology, you! ;) People never cease to surprise me with their assumptions.

P.S. Thank you! I've heard so many great things about your work! I'm really excited to get to know you. :)

@Lisa - That's a great theory! Seriously, I couldn't have said it better myself. :) I might have to refer people back to the comments on this post, the next time they try to mess with me! Thank you!

JeffO said...

"It’s fake, because you can’t possibly understand it."

Having been (and still being) in love, I can honestly say I don't think *any*one understands it, so that's a big load of BS right there.

I know that one of the things that gnaws at me when I think of unveiling the WiP is the knowledge that people (i.e., the wife and kids) are going to look at me in a particular way, and think "Hmm, where did *that* come from?" I know I make stuff up, and yes, some of it is based on personal experience, but not all of it is. Fiction is experience + extrapolation. A lot of extrapolation.

And I don't notice this post as being 'off track' at all, Carrie. I quite enjoyed it.

Botanist said...

So, I suppose I'm disqualified from writing sci-fi because I've never been in space or blown up a planet. Darn, I knew I was doing something wrong!

Jeff King said...

Writing is what we want, what we know, and what we dream all wrapped in one.
Just because you haven’t been in love, doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re looking for, or what it is to be loved on in love.

linda said...

This is SUCH a great post. (Also, kudos to you for keeping your cool. I might have been tempted to kick him where it hurts, in the name of research for my next fight scene.) What you said resonated with me a lot because I also haven't really been in love, but I never thought that would disqualify me from writing about it. I think writers can make emotions and experiences they never experienced themselves come to life though a combination of research, observation, imagination, and amplification of the things they have felt.

And I think that guy was just being a jerk. From your recollection of his dialogue it seems more like he was trying to make a point about you not being capable of love or refusing love than if you can write romance or not. (Made a LOT more sense once I found out he got rejected! Maybe he was going for the angle of "you need to go out with me so you can write a proper romance"?)

Anyway, great rant, and thanks for sharing!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

wow. we can understand many things without having personally experienced them.

Anonymous said...

I'm obviously not allowed to write about tha apocalypse because there hasn't been one! Makes perfect sense.

Or, perhaps: writers have imaginations, meaning we can imagine things that haven't happened, and we have empathy meaning we can picture how something feels.

I've never been angry enough to kill, but I've been angry. I am madly in love, but couldn't explain it, I jsut know how it feels.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Hahaha! That was an AWESOME post. I totally love the way you told it. There's a lot of things that non-writers don't get. Everything they've read in a book that felt genuine and real? Hard work, people, hard work.

Laila Knight said...

Very well put, Carrie. You make perfect sense. That's like people telling you you can't raise kids because you've never had any. Even if you've never had the experience of falling in love, if you've read enough romance, like me, there's nothing stopping you from writing romance. As writers we're called to place outselves into our character's minds. Why shouldn't we be able to do that with romance? :)

Patrick said...

If this were true, then I couldn't write about anything.

Great post, got me all fired up!

By the way I am actually a robot. It's not as fun as it sounds. :(

Sally said...

I'm guessing this means I can't write from the POV of a male character because I've never been a guy O_o Darn, time for that surgery...

Epic post!
Like you said, that's what imagination is for. I love fiction, and fantasy in specific. I doubt C.S. Lewis actually had Narnia in his closet, but when I read about it its like a real place. That's the beauty of books and stories, they allow us to live in places we never imagined, and feel things we've never experienced. Romance is just part of what you can create.

But love the way you responded, always keeping a cool (enough) head xD I think the guy ruined whatever potential he had of ever getting a date XD

Mark said...

Quirky post:) To be fair, even a non-experience is still an experience. So if someone hasn't been in love for instance, they should write about the experience of not being in love. Just my two cents:)

Carrie Butler said...

You guys blew me away with these comments! I swear, the next time I get into an argument, I'm going to yell, “BLOGGING COMMUNITY, RANTS ACTIVATE!” (Wonder Twins reference, anyone?) ;)

@Jeff O. – Thank you so much! I'm relieved to hear that. I was worried it felt a bit too messy and unscripted. :)

As for the gnawing feeling, I can definitely understand that. There’s a certain vulnerability that comes with writing. It’s hard to expose yourself like that, even when it’s a work of fiction, because of others' possible assumptions. I totally agree. That extrapolation isn't always taken into account.

@Botanist – Oh, I know! Apparently, we’re all doing something wrong. ;) Thanks for stopping by!

@Jeff K. – Thank you, Jeff! I’m really glad you guys agree with me on this. I appreciate the support. :)

@Linda – Thanks, Linda! Hah! The things we can justify in the name of research. If only I'd thought of that… ;) Exactly! I adore your explanation. So many components go into creating a convincible scene!

You know, I hadn’t even considered that. Then again, I was a little busy trying to contain my rage. (Hah!) Maybe he was trying to use that argument to convince me. Wow. Talk about failed tactics… *grin*

@Lynda – Yes! Why can’t more people understand this? :) Thanks for stopping by!

@Anninyn – Oh, obviously not! ;) People these days, I swear. You make a great point. I think empathy has a lot to do with it. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

@Peggy – Thanks! :) Oh, absolutely. Convincing scenes take nothing short of blood, sweat, and tears. (Thankfully, those stains come out…)

@Laila – Oo, I wish I had thought of that analogy! That was perfect. ;) You’re right. Even reading romance is an experience that contributes toward our own inspirations. Thank you!

@Sally – Hah! Oh, yes. I guess you’ll have to schedule that surgery before you finish your WIP. ;) You know, I bet we could compile quite the list of counter-arguments concerning authors and real life experience. Well said!

Why thank you! Oh, yes. He's done. lol ;)

@Mark – Welcome! That’s a great point. Even a non-experience is an experience we can use. Thank you! :)

Lydia Kang said...

The title of your blogpost said it perfectly. That statement is a load of ___.

Write on.

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Lydia! :)

Golden Eagle said...

I haven't gone through what my characters have, either--or I'd be in the midst of fighting for my political career and trying not to get assassinated.

The fictional bits are a lot of why people write, I think; if we'd experienced and gone through it all, why would there be stories? :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Bwahaha, love that you used the Murderer example. Dear God, Stephen King must be an incredible psychopath!!

And I am having scary thoughts about SM rolling around in glitter--thank you for that (not!)

LOL. You know how they say write what you know? I think we should write what we know, but also be inspired by what we don't. It makes better fiction. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Chronicles of Illusions said...

I am trying to imagine a place where writers only write what they know. That I could only write what I know. Which would mean I would never have written home letters from World War II. I should not have gone to Mars as the daughter of freedom fighters, or escaped a wasp attack when flirting with the prettiest female dragonfly I know. What a barren place thais would be. perhaps as barren as this person's imagination.

Becky Wallace said...

And btw who is this person to tell you that you haven't been in love? Does he live in your head?

Love in the books is usually better than the real thing anyway.

Carrie Butler said...

@Eagle - That's a great point. Stories fill our experience voids in such a meaningful way. :) Thank you for stopping by! Oh, and I'm glad you don't have to worry about assassination plots. Thank goodness for fiction!

@Angela - Hah! Yeah, why aren't we more terrified of this man? *grins* Sorry about those SM mental images. They, like glitter, will be hard to get rid of. ;)

I agree 100%. Thank you!

@Jo - You're so right. I love the comparison you drew between the barren place and his imagination. Too fitting. ;) Oh, and I'm going to have to visit your site after this. All of this scenario talk has me intrigued! Thanks for visiting!

@Becky - Exactly! I think he was making an assumption based on my dating track record. (I tend to get cheated on. Bleh!) Yes, and love in books is like instant gratification. Boy meets girl and, after a few hundred pages, they're together. :) Thank you for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Carrie. It frustrates me, too. I've made the mistake of letting a few family members read some of my WIP, and invariably they ask if the characters are based on any of them. Cuz, ya know, I have absolutely NO imagination at all. Sigh.

Your comment about the knife thing outside Target got me thinking. Mind if I use you as the excuse at my trial? :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oh my goodness, I hate when people say that! I've never been 'in love' with a person before (fictional characters aside :D) but I very much know what love is. Good authors don't take for granted that everyone has fallen in love, so they know how to make the feeling more universal. I think the problem is when the author can't get outside of the feeling in the first place and resorts to cliches.

Carrie Butler said...

@Bryce - Thank you! Ah, yes. It's always a challenge to keep the eye twitching at a minimum during those conversations. As for the trial, I say we blame Poet! ;)

@Bethany - Well said! I'm glad someone agrees. :D Thank you very much. P.S. Welcome back from vacation!