Today’s Dispatch: Dungeons of Dragons

One of the songs I listened to incessantly during my marathon writing sessions was “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell – and in particular the excellent cover version sung by James Blake, which I also posted in the Proust Questionnaire for Pete.

 These lines stood out to me in particular:

I am a lonely painter 

I live in a box of paints

I’m frightened by the devil 

And I’m drawn to those ones who ain’t afraid 

I had to stop and think on this closely with regard to my own personal approach to writing. There have been a few autobiographical elements in the past that have leaked into my fictional work, and I’ve been up front about that for the most part – especially when it comes to my male characters.

The heroes, of course, are always funny, affectionate, and sometimes a bit boneheaded if they could not help it. The antagonists, on the other hand, are manipulative, callous, and often unfaithful.

Can you guess which of these types I have experienced more often than not in my lifetime?

To be fair, some of those villains have their own charm; they’re handsome and smug, and they’re brought down not so much by their sins than by their utter lack of self-awareness. But they can also be emotionally manipulative, in the worst way, and can cause a lot of damage in a manner that ruins the inner logic of the story, especially when there’s a romantic angle in the middle of it all. And, as much as I try to keep them there as mere obstacles, the cruelty that they inflict just ruins the magic of it all: The hero might rescue the princess from the ogre, but he’ll have to deal with her PTSD once the credits start rolling.

It’s not that simple, believe me. It’s hard to write these things when some of the “bad boys” I’ve known in real life are, in fact, terrible human beings. And I should talk, because I’ve been there. Therapy and all.

Right now, my fiction writing is the only place where I can let out the romantic yearnings that I cannot act on in my own real life. There’s nothing wrong with that for me any more, for as long as I know that nothing is sacred and everything can be edited. And yet, it hasn’t stopped me from editing so much because I want every word and action to make sense, within the logic of the story.

If only I could make it all work for me.

Love, Stella

2 Responses

  1. While we don't want to insert ourselves and our experiences word for word into our stories as a form of therapy, I think it's only natural to draw on the things we've been through in life to help shape our characters. The old adage of 'write what you know' give us the excuse to get fingers to the keyboard. After that, we need to explore what makes humans tick. It gives us interesting and compelling characters. For those of us who write romance, we are destined to fall in love with our heroes. If we don't love them, how is our heroine going to fall in love with them? Yeah, there's going to be those borderline human beings there to add conflict. There has to be. And to have experienced it first hand, you know what pain it inflicts. You can use those emotions to shape how your character reacts in those similar situations. Without them, it's just a guess and inauthentic.

    I started truly writing in my twenties but I realized that I knew nothing! I thought I was smart, mature for my age and all that stuff. Yeah, well I hadn't lived, hadn't experienced anything. I had no untapped resources of joy or pain. Now that I'm forty, I look back and I see just how dumb I was. Without all those years of life under my belt, I wouldn't be able to develop characters with depth. I think it's worked pretty good so far.

    So vent, rail, spill, and scribble. Take what you need and leave the rest behind. One day… it will all work out.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words, Indigo. 🙂

    Part of my neurosis over writing – and I may go over it into more detail in the next entry – comes from my own fear of being called out for creating too many idealized characters and writing the "storybook" endings. There's also this insecurity over looking like I'm hung up on everything… but you're right, there are a lot of lessons to learn, and there's always a better way of dealing with these things by letting the characters experience them in their own ways.

    The time for hesitation will come and go; what's more important is to write the story I want to tell, trust in the process, and let the rest fall in place.

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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