Monday, March 15, 2010

Common Ground - Part II - What to Write About

Love and Death, by Hans Baldung Grien (c.1484-1545)

So, writers, if you are going to connect with readers, you have to come up with something to which they can relate. Those choices vary, but there are two that always come to mind.

The only two things worth writing about, so the old saying goes, are love and death.

We want the former, and we will all eventually get the latter. Almost everybody can relate to those, if you express either or both well enough.

Don't think so? Pick out a list of your favorite stories. There might not be soppy romantic love scenes or dramatic death-bed exits, but the promise (or threat) of these will almost certainly be in the story somewhere. You need something worth caring about. If the stakes are penny ante, who cares who wins or loses?

The younger you are, it is likely love will resonate more. The older, then death tends to push its way to the front. At sixteen and bulletproof, you don't think all that much about dying, it's an abstraction way down the line; at ninety, the Reaper is probably in the front yard, looking at his watch. There's that line in Space Cowboys, by Tommy Lee Jones, I think: "Does it seem like lately that everybody we know is dead?"

We are born. If that is alive, we live, however long or briefly; we have experiences; our number comes up and we die.

Like the biker tattoo says: iiwii.

It is what it is.

Life is pretty much the gist of any good story. Once upon a time ... some interesting stuff happens ... the end.

After death? I can't tell you. Do we whuff out like a candle's flame in the sudden wind from a slammed door, and that's it? Do we get recycled back into the cosmic pool, have our memories scrubbed, and get sent out for another run? Do we go to Heaven or Paradise? Limbo or Hell? Religious cosmology offers a lot of theories, pick the one that works best for you.

Meanwhile, if you speak to something that your readers can see, understand, and feel a connection to, and the story is entertaining, you can perhaps develop a following.

Love and death. Those are the keel and hull upon which your writing ship will be built. You'll need other parts to make it seaworthy, but without those, you won't get very far ...


J.D. Ray said...

"Death came for him in the pages of a novel..."

Ooh, I like it. You write the rest, Steve. ;)

I wrote the following bit some years back:

"Brian was born, and then he died.
His was a very short life.
This is a very short story."

Yeah, I know. Corny. Supports your point, though.



Anonymous said...

Way too late by the time I read this post, but I think I'll comment just in case anyone ever reads it late. Everyone says Sturgeon wrote about love, but interestingly enough he once commented that he wrote about LONELINESS, "the biggest market there is". Not death or love, but probably right up there...

Some guy said...

Ooops. That last Anonymous was "Some guy"; I missed something.

Steve Perry said...

I'd argue that loneliness is due to lack of love.

Plus, what Ted said and what he did didn't always agree. His stuff is filled with love stories.

Some guy said...

Coming back even later... Oh yeah, I definitely didn't mean to imply that there's no overlap between the two. Lots of love in his stories. It was just a subtle distinction between what he said he wrote about, loneliness, and the word everyone I read who writes about him uses, love, that caught my attention. I was just now trying to think of a story in which he covered loneliness but not love. "A Saucer of Loneliness" MIGHT qualify. "And Won't You Walk-" doesn't seem to be very much about love, far more about loneliness, but there are larger self-worth issues all mixed in so it doesn't make an ideal example.