Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Joy of Writing: Musical Characters

I write because for me it is a form of play.

That does not mean I don’t take it seriously, or that I don’t try to convey weighty and adult themes in my writing. All it means is that the actual act of writing for me is by and large fun.

I’m not especially interested in deep autobiographical soul searching, nor do I have an overt or consistent political or social agenda to my fiction (non-fiction is perhaps another story) what guides me is the sense that the story is ‘right’ and that creating it lends a sense of satisfaction and completion seldom found in other activities.

Again, it is an activity roughly akin to play. Play brings with it the satisfaction of creating a world that we can control. For me, writing is an analogous activity. The hidden source of its satisfaction lay in our childhood dream worlds.
 Take one of my characters, the Hebrew poet Yasha Schulevitz. A few years ago I created and embedded him in a novel that took place in Europe between the wars. This Yasha was a Hebrew poet and Yiddish journalist. He inhabited this world, and was a fixture of it. He fit in, and when he did not, the novel ended.

I enjoyed creating him so much that I wrote short stories about him. Two were taken and published. The Yasha of the short stories is similar to the Yasha of the novel, but also different. Their biographies rhyme, but the form and demands of short story writing made me render Yasha differently, and happily so.

Finally, I took Yasha, a Diaspora Jew, and placed him in an ‘alternate, history in the State of Greater Israel in my novel People of the Land. Here, he is a solider and poet. Here, the demands of this new history thrust him into different roles than the two other Yashas.  Even after two shots at him, there was more of the character to create and explore.

How else to explain these mutations of character than the inherent sense of play in writing? Writing is about the exploration of whatever the writer finds interesting, but without the joy in the act of writing, I think fiction often comes across as sententious and runs the great risk of being boring.

Of course this is an ideal that is often hard to follow. But when accomplished, the results are always pleasant to read. The joy of writing becomes the joy of reading

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