How do writers decide what to write? There is a romanticised idea that writers stick steadfastly to their muse, creating an innovative piece of work that is a mirror to their soul. This is, in some part, true. However, those writing for publication must bend to commerce and produce as certain format and write within fairly strict genre.
A piece of fiction is a communication between the writer and the reader and as soon as it is created becomes subjective. The difference between a list of instructions, which is fairly objective, and a story is a beginning, middle, and end, characters and also a temporal aspect. A story lays out, in a familiar format, a narrative of where, when, why and how something happens. Part of the reason fiction is so popular is that it mirrors the way we live every day.
Each person has their own narrative which is the story that they convey to the outside world. The ‘I’ of the internal world of thoughts is translated to the ‘me’ that presents to the world through storytelling on a daily basis. We create a story through verbal and non-verbal language to convey our identity to others and to ourselves.
This creation of our identity is effected partly through memories. Our memories are unique to us because each person occupies an individual spatio-temporal situation therefore each person has a slightly different physical view of and event. Also, our memories are built upon schemas of our individual experiences and relative to these. So, two people observing the same event will inevitably remember it in different ways, as the meaning of the event will be different based on previous experiences. So, in effect, the recall of these memories are fiction in themselves, as any recall and telling will be a construction between sensory memory, experience and meaning.
This throws an interesting light on what we decide to write and how people read it. Our identities are constructed through representations on personal, interpersonal and institutional levels, yet as soon as we receive this information it becomes subjective and is regurgitated in terms of our cumulative past experience in the context of everyday life.
Is writing fiction any different? When we ‘invent’ a story is it really invented or is it a genre-structured regurgitation of collective identity? Are the plotlines and characters escapees from our mundane everyday storytelling, finding refuge in the pages of novels, where readers turn the pages to release them into their consciouness to add richness to their own stories?
I, for one, am profoundly affected by representations in lots of different types of novels. I recently re-read ‘Rebecca’ and was so struck by the term ‘starting an infant’ to describe pregnancy that I smirked for days. Similarly, when had read Bridget Jones my writing and speech was seriously affected by ‘diary format’ for weeks. Nick Hornby provoked the eternal capitalisation of ‘Good Thing’ and ‘The Memory Keeper’s Wife’ meant that I would forever reconcile the body with objects in nature. Rather than learning by rote, fiction inhabits the fictional parts of the memory that construe meaning through individual experience.
Fiction exists to entertain not to educate, but how much of someone else’s identity and therefore meaning does the reader imbue when reading a novel? Are novels a way to pass on moral messages in a non-threatening, non-evaluative way? Are the best novels those that take the themes of character, their relationships and and overarching premise which mirror the personal, interpersonal and institutionalised aspects of identity construction?
Many works of fiction seem a million miles from everyday life, but the formation of the story, the underpinning familiarity of starting and progressing a novel, the sensory exchange from page to consciousness is exactly the same as the perception of storytelling from day to day, and contributes equally to the construction of memory.
Studies on stress and visualisation techniques have shown that the mind cannot differentiate between a visualised experience and a real experience; so visualising lying on the beach has a similar relaxation effect on the nervous system as actually lying on a beach. Similarly, watching Crimewatch on the TV can have the same effect as experiencing a crime.
This highlights the power of storytelling and the tremendous effect it has on constructing meaning. So, what to write? As everything execpt this very moment is fiction, steeped in our own constructions of meaning, does it really matter? Or should writer’s bear a responsibility for their escaped memory schema’s shaped by imagination, sensationalised, and beat into genre form, and their meaninng-making steps, towards the reader’s consiouness?
‘Life itself is only a vision; a dream; nothingness is the same empty space..and you, and you are but a thought.’ – The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain.