(Characters) need to exhibit enough conflict and contradiction that we can recognize them as belonging to the contradictory human race - Janet Burroway
With a boost to my ego (thanks to my editor, Marty T) I have made the time (but barely) to return to the book that started this whole life shift for me. Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach is why I made a decision to get serious about writing. It's why this blog exists. It's why my fingers have become more at home on a keyboard than attached to my own wrists.
This week I've been working through Chapter 5 on Characters and Character.
The first 4 exercises were very personal .... instructions to write about your mother & father from your memory as a child and from where you are now, an adult. Mr. Roorback gives us permission to never publish those works. The exercise is intended to be personal, Roorbach writes, "...moms and dads are hard to write about, call up our worst guilty, our worst fears of exposure, failure. Again, this is writing just for you."
whew! but just about the time that he conjures up all this guilt and turmoil within myself about writing about real life characters Roorbach delivers some fine advice on characters,
"When we write about the people in our lives, in fact before we even start, we run into an ethical problem, even when - maybe especially when- they are aware we are writing about them. ...
Memoirist (unlike journalists) don't have the same immediate and practical need to exploit the stories of others, yet others come into our own stories in unavoidable ways. What do we owe our families? Our friends? Our lovers (past and present)? Our enemies? ...
If you have half a conscious, of course there will be the urge to protect people in your life. They never asked to be put on the page. You're not a journalist exploiting others for their story. But listen; it's your story, too. If you had a parent that drank, the drinking happened to you. If you had a famous grandfather. That fame happened to you. Was your father crazy? Your mother a master of guilt? Your brother a big success? Your old lover manipulative? Your wife preoccupied with career? It's your story too. Negative emotions and traits, such as jealousy, greed, misery, and meanness, are all part of the story - your story - and shouldn't be left out any more that the good stuff should be left out."
The next exercise in this chapter? To roast an enemy. That's right pick someone and expose them. Write about their pimples and farts and use quotes. Then ... throw it away. We memoirists are not in the revenge business, we are learning expression.
Wow! That'll be something right there. I can tell you right now ... I won't just throw it away. I'll burn it! Who knew writing could be so .... scary/fun/guilt inducing/stress relieving?