After writing last week’s article about the quotes that head each of my chapters, I got to thinking about the real world quotes that have been meaningful to me. I’ve been collecting quotes for over twenty years. Most are from books, fiction and non-fiction, while others come from TV shows or movies. They run a wide gambit of philosophy, wisdom, and sometimes humor. Of these, three encapsulate my perceptions on the craft of writing.
The first of these is by Cyril Connolly who, I have to confess, I know next to nothing about other than a quick skimming of Wikipedia. But his words resonated with me:
“Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”
This has always been my principle in writing. I don’t believe in following market trends or the various waves of fads. If you believe in what you write, what you write will be better and stronger. I believe writing is a craft of the soul. It is a medium to explore who and what we are, where we came from and where we’re going. It is a place of struggles and despair, hopes and dreams. These things cannot be easily contrived if you’re simply telling people things you think they want to hear. If you aren’t chasing a fad, it may be more difficult for the public to find it, but when and if you do, they are more likely to remember it. What you write is more likely to have lasting value.
The second quote is by Steven Brust from his novel “Paths of the Dead.” In a notes section at the end of the book, he and one of his characters each discuss their perceptions on writing. Brust states:
“It’s really simple. What you do is put up a sign on whatever wall you face when you’re writing. The sign says ‘And now I’m going to tell you something really cool.’”
In his paragraph prior to this conclusion, Brust explained that readers will like a writer’s work in proportion to what they think is cool. Those who like “big honking” greatswords will like books about greatswords. Brust advises that he doesn’t care for greatswords, but rather cloaks and rapiers so that’s what he writes. As it happens, I made myself a sign with that quote and it has been displayed by my computer for going on fifteen years.
If you’ve read “Tears from Iron” then you’ll know I do rather like greatswords (props to Ninanna), though I also like cloaks and rapiers (shuddering nod to the Shadow-Servant). But all jokes aside, Brust is dead on and I see this as the second half of Connolly’s quote. Write what resonates with you, but also write something cool. If it isn’t cool, then who would want to read it? If you aren’t having fun with writing, then what’s the use? Themes and ideas are important if you want to say anything of value, but they have to be carried by a great story. And at the same time, it is good to remember that people’s definition of cool will vary. My books will appeal to those who agree with me, but there will be others who don’t care for them and that’s okay, too.
The final quote goes back to the turn of the (20th) century. It is by G.K. Chesterton who was a major influence on C.S. Lewis’s life.
“Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know the dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
This, to me, is the purpose of fantasy literature. I know there is some popularity with nihilism, rampant hero slaughter, and tragic endings these days in fantasy as well as other genres, but I have no interest in it. The world we live in is tough no matter who you are. We all have struggles and some of them can seem darker than the abyss. If that’s true, then why would I want literature that drags me further into that pit? In the best stories, the characters need to suffer and struggle. They need to descend into a pit of despair whether that be by running full tilt or by being dragged kicking and scratching. But in the end, I believe that they must rise triumphant. They may not survive their triumph. That triumph may not be quite what they envisioned when they began. They may be heavily scarred by the experience. But there must be justice and there must be hope. In our own world where so many people are struggling to find hope, let alone justice, why would I want to weigh them down further? No, I want to show them that, though the price is seldom an easy one, the dragons in our lives can be defeated, too.