I’m not always comfortable with what I’m writing.
It’s kind of an obvious thing to say: I write stories in which horrible things happen, often to good people, and of course I’m not comfortable with those things. Mutilation? Death? Injustice? I’d have to be an unfeeling monster not to react to those with some kind of revulsion.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about are the hooks that get me — the things that yank my imagination, that don’t just wake up my muse but light a fire under her ass — and how I’m not always comfortable with how I react to them. In other words, the things that I love and obsess over without reason.
The process usually goes like this: I’ll be reading or watching or listening to something, and some aspect of it will resonate with me more deeply than I expected. Sometimes I’ll notice it, sometimes I’ll just wonder why I’ve settled on this particular piece.
I’ll reread the same few pages several times, even when I’m not rereading the whole book. Or I’ll fast-forward to one scene out of a movie, watching the same twenty seconds over and over. Or I listen to a song on repeat for six or seven days straight (there’s got to be a German word for this phenomenon). This happens less now that I’m no longer in high school (and my God, the tapes I wore out listening to the same damn songs over and over…), but there’s still something in me that responds to them.
Since a lot of these don’t make any rational sense, I’m often embarrassed by any temporary obsession with them, particularly if their source is a bit dubious. It’s all well and good to say that your inner muse was sparked by a Byron poem, but what if it’s a Meat Loaf song that’s got you?
An example: I was watching a fairly mediocre episode of a popular scifi show (I’d really rather not say which one; see above re: embarrassment), and while most of it was formulaic, one exchange — a character forced into saying something — just seemed to grab me by the hindbrain. My first reaction, once I’d realized just how much of a draw this was for me, was to retreat. Then to watch it again. So far, no surprises. But then I tried to see whether I could use that particular hook in what I was working on at the time.
This can easily go so very, very wrong, particularly if what pings your id isn’t as universal as you’d thought. I’ve read books where I could tell the author was finding one particular subject (transcendent meditation, light bondage, elves/vampires/dire broody immortal dudes) absolutely riveting, but I had little to no interest in it beyond its relation to the plot and characters. If those are interesting enough, I usually don’t mind, but a focus like that is still noticeable. And if the plot and characters aren’t sufficiently distracting, I’ll be so put off by that obsession that it colors the whole book for me.
I suspect — and I have no actual basis for saying this, so be warned that I am talking out of my hinder — that this is easier to handle in fanfic than in commercial writing. There’s sort of a sense of shared enthusiasm over some of the same things, and so less fear that a story will get a “dude, wtf?” reaction. But there’s still that possibility, regardless of your audience.
So when I say that I’m not comfortable with what I’m writing, it’s partly the subject matter, and partly a fear that what interests me will not interest the reader.
So: What wakes up the back of your brain? What books did so effectively — and which ones left you cold? Should you be able to tell when an author is working with something that fascinates her, or does a story work better when that’s not as noticeable?