|Photo: Simon Howden|
Typically, I've stayed away from blogging about the craft of writing. As I've only been writing for a short period of time, I haven't felt qualified to speak about the topic. There are so many great craft blogs out there (such as two of my favorites, Writer Unboxed and Story Fix) with experienced professionals giving fabulous advice, I've felt it best to leave the topic of the craft of writing alone.
Relationships, on the other hand, are my area of expertise. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I deal with other people's relationships day in, and my own relationships day out. We've all experienced the intersection of writing with our personal lives, and I have found such an intersection in the areas of writing and relationships.
The further I delve into writing fiction, the importance of relationships surfaces again and again. I have noticed three relationships that are obvious in writing fiction; those of our characters to the setting, to each other, and the use of cause and effect.
Character and Setting
Setting can be a character unto itself. The way I view the relationship between character and setting is very similar to our own lives and the environment in which we live. As individuals, we are shaped and formed as we grow up by our family of origin, our economic class, our religion, the friends we keep, the culture in which we live, the list goes on and on. We can be comfortable within our environment, or it can chafe against us.
So it is with our characters. Setting is not just location, although that's an important part of a story. The setting of a story interacts with our characters, and can be a catalyst for change or a source of conflict.
Characters and Other Characters
This seems like a given. Of course our characters are going to have relationships with other characters. But this is where that broad term becomes important. Each character (even the minor ones) have their own view of the world around them - their own setting. Each character has it's own needs, wants, and fears. Each character has it's own ideas about what they need to survive, and how to go about getting those needs met.
Each interaction is greater than "friendship" or "romantic involvement." Conflict arises out of Character A needing something from Character B that maybe Character B can't (or won't) give, because of their own wants or needs. Or maybe Character A has a belief that doesn't align with Character B's belief system, and how are they going to work together when that is the case, because they have to work together to save the world.
Cause and Effect
When I started reading how-to books, one of the best that helped me to understand story structure was Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham. In the book, Mr. Bickham says that cause and effect is key to understanding story structure. He says that, by understanding the relationship between cause and effect, we create a logical chain of events that helps a reader suspend disbelief. They trust the story because there is a reason why what happens in the story happens.
The part I like best, though, is that by creating order that the real world often doesn't have (truth being stranger than fiction) we, as writers, offer hope to the reader that everything will turn out all right. To quote Mr. Bickham, "Because this kind of presentation shows a world in which things do make sense...the resulting story also has the effect of offering a little hope to the reader...that bad things don't always happen to good people for no reason...a hint that maybe the reader can seize some control of his own life after all, and that good effort may sometimes actually pay off-and our existence may indeed even have some kind of meaning."
Come to think of it, maybe that's why writing is such good therapy. We are able to take those events in our lives that confuse the heck out of us, and turn them around and give them some order. We're able to gain some control over the chaos that is everyday life.
Have you noticed relationships in other areas of writing?