The emotional core of the story - part 1 of 2Writing as a process of self-inquiry
Confronted with the unease within
When asked about my novel “A child made to order”, I would summarise it was a psychological drama/thriller about a woman’s inner struggle with her infertility. Upon this statement, I would mostly receive blank stares, followed by an uneasy silence, and the person in question would hurriedly skip to the next subject at hand. Anything which would brush over this anomaly.
Though sometimes, and maybe lucky for me, the more honest ones would spit it right out: “What (the fuck) do you, a 40+ year old male, think you know about infertility?”
Yes, what do I know about something as serious and life-debilitating as the Mitochondrial disease? A rare genetic disorder which renders a woman’s offspring crippled. But even more to the point, what do I know about the long-term repercussions this disease has on these women’s psyche?
Although this question stung right at my insecurites, being as uncomfortable as it can get, it was also necessary to hear it. This was not only a perfectly valid question, it was a question which struck right at the heart of what we storytellers are trying to do. It demanded answers, why am I doing what I do, writing what I write and telling this story, instead of any other story.
And ultimately it also pushed me further into a confrontation with something which most of all attempt to run away from. Our inner unease.
So with this in mind, I would like to circle around the following questions.
Should we write only what we know? Play it safe and approach matters that we have lived through. Or maybe it’s the other way around? We should only write what we don’t know? Take a wild chance, put everything on some wild card, anything to blast our way out of the safe and comfy shell of ours, out of our comfort zone.
And if we choose to go down this troubled path, why do we do it in the first place? What drives us into this great black, yawning chasm of this unknown? Why do we write about something which we have no emotional prerequisite to understand? Is it only naive curiosity driven by our sheer stupidity, or is it some random chance? A quantum crap shoot of the universe?
And then maybe, just maybe, it might be something deeper? Something which bubbles up from our subconsious, our heart(?), and attempts to tell us something, to comprehend ourselves better, to expand our inner cosmos?
The protagonist’s psyche shredded inside out by her own demons. (Image: Laura Makabresku)
Digging for the core
It is easy as a writer to get caught up in the bells and whistles of the story. The exquisite intricacies of the thrillerish plot, the suespenseful twists and turns, the amazing hook at the beginning, and the stunning revelations at the end. Or even the beautiful theme which might become the inititating point of the story. I certainly do it more often than not and get so fired up, it becomes notorieusly difficult to drag me down to mother earth.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying these skills manifested in our stories. All of them are able to add up to some nifty storytelling. They are the muscles, tendons, eyes, even intellect of the story told. But to get at the core of the story, that part which will not only flabberghast the recepient, but wrench their heart inside out, I believe we need to do some heavy lifting inside ourselves.
We need to dig for the emotional core of our story.
“It’s a myth that writers write what they know. We write what it is that we need to know. What keeps me sitting at my desk, hour after hour, year after year, is that I do not know something, and I must write in order to find my way to an understanding. This is the essence of all writing, to find a way to an understanding.” – Marcie Hershman
We are all broken
I used the better part of writing my novel to come to terms with why I was writing it in the first place.
There was the initial infatuation with the theme of the current state of Genetics. And it still is. After all, we have a revolution in the making. We are right on the brink of a mile stone in humanity’s history, a point where we will be able to rewrite the most basic fibre of our existence, our DNA. This theme sparked off the idea for the book. But this theme, or any other theme ofr that matter, won’t cut it for 80.000 words which have to push and pull the reader into a trance-like emotional rollercoaster.
So the writing process ended up being a journey, a self-ransacking. What did I have emotionally in common with such a protagonist like Viola? What was the resonating frequency between us? Or to be more exact, what kind of flaws did I share with my character? What conscious wants did we have in common? And what uncioncious needs overlapped in our characters?
And most of all, why did the writing process about such a woman come so naturally for me? What issues were bleeding over from my personality over to the fictitious universe of my protagonist?
From my experience, only through this uncomfortable digging into our own psyche, do we have a chance at creating a story which will reverberate in someone else. In other words, have a shot at becoming universal. Or to put it in in a different manner: The more I write, and make conscious why I write, the more precise and pinpointed my underlying message becomes.
There are some people, writers, artists, etc, who, in a self exclamatory manner, claim they’ve conquered their demons. They’ve become their own Supermen/women, the master’s of their own universe.
And it might even be true, I wish that for them. But personally, I believe this process, the confrontation with what’s inside us, is never finished. Not because I enjoy the anguish it brings, but because it carries with it a constant self-inquiry. And this is what makes us grow. This mental destress and misery is what pushes us to transcend beyond what we are now.
For me Ernest Hemingway’s words bring with them a deep psychological and spiritual truth. They strike right at the heart of the cracks which never quite mend inside us, but instead help us evolve and ascend.
“We are all broken, that’s how the Light gets in.” – Ernest Hemingway
Please come back in two weeks time for the next installment of this article. I will touch more upon the process, my conclusions and what kind of healing role art is able to fulifll.
Finally, I would also like to extend deep gratitude to Laura Makabresku for letting me use her photos for this story. For me personally, few others epitomize the psychological anguish which lurks just beneath our surface.
Piotr RyczkoStory's author
As long as I can remember, a part of me has always been a keen, albeit very quiet, observer of the world around me. And another part has been a wide-eyed wonder boy who, from the get go, wanted to escape into another dimension, some yet undiscovered version of the land of Oz.
This combination of character has, on more than one occasion, shown itself to be a tad aggravating, and maybe even quite unfortunate to the outside world. And since my verbal skills are still locked away in some deep recess of my being, a talent still awaiting discovery, I had no other choice than to become a visual storyteller dressed up as filmmaker. During that process I also fell in love with words, quite many of them, actually. Since then, there was no turning back, and I became a scribe of the written word.
Through this blog, and through my stories, be they written or told in moving images, I would like to share with you what I feel, think and dream of. And if anything on this blog connects with you, mail me, I would love to hear about it.