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Thoughts on the Creative Writing Process

 Thoughts on the Creative Writing Process


Of course, in speaking of creativity, it is true that people do not really create anything. Physicists will tell you that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. But what about ideas? Or the mind? It may have been the sculptor Michelangelo who observed that when shaping stone into a certain form, the form was already there, hidden in the marble or granite, and that his job as an artist was merely to find it. But other than such riddles, there are much deeper wells of archetype, mystery, and psychology that you can draw from in your creative writing, and this is the form hidden here for now.
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The classic modern text for this discussion is Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." Here and elsewhere, story and humanity are portrayed in terms of ancient myths and legends specific to the protagonist as a victorious and conquering figure who must descend into a dark place to retrieve the prize, whatever it may be. If you can find a copy of Campbell's work, by all means pick it up for a read. What you want to learn is the way in which more timeless, more ancient and myth-oriented story elements can grant your writing a depth and recognition factor with audiences that makes all your writing more creative.

This does not mean writing about people in ancient times or retelling Greek myths like Medusa or Achilles. In all of your stories, you usually will feature a central figure around whom the action and plot will orbit: the protagonist, or hero. It does not matter whether that figure is young or old, male or female, or even nonhuman; but it really is tough to tell a story about no one at all or with no person as the main character. A story can be written about a building or structure, or the fate of a certain mountain or field beside a flowing creek; but even then, the text has a subject and the action or developments move through time relative to whatever it may be.

What is meant then is to look at the creative powers you have as something that calls you back to the dawn of time and being, and the fountains of creation itself, so as to give your work a timeless and universal quality. And the protagonist contains all of this.

By example, you might look at some of literature's most powerful works: books like Moby Dick, Don Quixote, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tom Sawyer, or even Tarzan of the Apes. The authors seemed to touch some notes and melodies, chords, and full-on orchestral movements in these works that have resonated for ages. What is that quality? What were they doing in their writing that could be so durable in the popular imagination? Part of the reason is that throughout history the human story has various elements that are consistently compelling and dramatic, and the so-called hero's journey is a big part of it all. Conflict, passion, right and wrong, challenge, battle, love and death are all elementary, dear Watson.

Whether it is a rite of passage, a coming of age, an initiation, epic quest, or summa theologica, the hero's journey is what all peoples in all times have considered in terms of male and female life-passage, such as that any person may face a challenge and overcome it through adversity. Maybe because the human ego is so great here on Earth, or because almost anyone faces challenges, this process has become myth. It is not merely a challenge, such as getting your laundry done. It is a red-hot, fire-spewing dragon, and the journey to the cave where he lives is equally as dangerous as slaying the dragon itself. It is not just a man trying to humble himself as he deals with threats and danger; it is a gut-wrenching battle with the goddess Medusa, her hideous visage and crown of snakes at any moment capable of turning you to stone.
These colors are crimson-red; the darkness of and feel of old wood or earth; cold, gray stone; deep green ocean; or a fiery yellow sun, and the indigo abyss of space. The sounds are those of thunder and lightning, shouts in battle and the screams of horses, an infant's cry, the music that trees make as the wind passes, or the sound of a cataract of cascading water, or an exploding volcano. What the writer may visualize in the realm of myths can include whatever his or her imagination produces but almost always imitates the powerful, mighty, clever, sexual, masculine or feminine, and also the natural: whales, sea creatures, dinosaurs, huge birds, the minotaur or the centaur, and creatures we have yet to invent.
In psychology, there is probably no more vital motive for your writing than sexuality. These myths include that of Oedipus, the Virgin Birth myth, phallic power in general, the Garden of Eden myth, and all of the stories of the gods, their endless children and concubines, queens and goddesses, etc. Erotic writing can, of course, be titillating; but you also can illuminate the human experience relative to emotional events such as rape or homosexuality and all the spectrum of attachment, devotion, romance, birth and family, fatherhood, motherhood, or even sex for the disabled. The so-called love story is something audiences never grow tired of, and almost any modern film or book will include the requisite love interest, almost as an afterthought. Never doubt in your creative journey that works like Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, or Barefoot in the Park find their strength in the most basic human need for the most basic human emotion: love.
The words you might be using are English, the alphabet is maybe Phoenician, and you may pen your tale on a personal computer, an electric typewriter, or a pad of paper. But the stories, those are made of something else; and that is the depth of the human adventure and the myth of human heroism. If you are a homemaker writing for fun or an accountant by day, those violent and extreme qualities of really epic proportions might be far from you, or you might feel disconnected when writing about a war, a space battle, a serious crime, or murder. Lots of writers will approach their epic topic feeling they already understand those waters and can swim right alongside the great masters but then come back from the blank page without the prize. So it is worthwhile to recognize the story or journey in its most potent forms. Unless you are someone who has been in battle or aboard a spaceship, one way to do this is by reading works by people like Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung, or read the Greek and Roman myths.

            Meanwhile, where's my broadsword? Wench! Bring me my ale!


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