Friday, June 25, 2010

Me and my (Imaginary) Friends

It struck me as strange the other day that some of the most successful novels and television series concentrate very strongly on relationships and friendships, yet the typical writer is very introverted - more of a lone wolf type character. So what's happening here?

Are writers able to absorb all these things from others despite their lack of personal interaction and bring it forth in a convincing way (in a variety of mediums), or am I just outing myself as a social misfit, and most other writers have huge circles of friends?

I was re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone the other day - the first JK Rowling HP book. You know that old Harry - greatest wizard in the world - does not actually do a single magical spell in the whole book? It's true. I checked. He does accidental magic at the beginning. He hops onto a broomstick and finds that he is an automatic natural at it. And there are vague references to him learning spells as part of his schoolwork, but you do not actually see him wave his wand and do a spell.

What you do see in the HP books is tons of stuff on relationships. A lot of time is spent on the building of relationships and the testing and proving of them. I think someone said once the HP books were like 'Famous Five with magic'. It's about the gang, not the magic - that is almost setting.

So, anyway. The portrayal of relationships and friendship is crucial to the success of fiction, and is a strong element in bestseller YA.

How can we, as lone wolf writers, learn to do this so well? Or are we just continuing our relationships with our imaginary friends from childhood into adulthood?

20 comments:

Synova said...

I doubt there is a sane person who has no friends at all.

The difference between introvert and extrovert, to me, and I don't see them as exclusive of each other, isn't the number of friends but that the introvert is spending more time thinking about internal things and the extrovert more time about external things.

And maybe I'm entirely full of it. I suppose the actual term isn't introvert, but introspective.

Anyhow, I think of a girl my brother dated who, when talking about feelings (or asking or demanding to know about them) was of the opinion; how can a person *not* know how they feel?

I'm the opposite. I can't even imagine how a person *can* know how they feel. Nothing is that simple. Not ever. Do I love you? Yes. Am I happy? Yes. Sad? No. Angry? Well, maybe I'm more hurt than angry. Maybe it's less anger and more despair or suppressed jealousy or insecurity. And if I love you, is it that I love you or is it that I admire you and have a happy picture of how my life would be if I could just be with someone like you. Am I so sure of myself that I know? Isn't self-delusion the definition of being human?

In any case, I think that in order to write about things you've got to think about them, turn them over and look at all of the sides.

No matter how many friends you have.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Synova. True. I guess I was deliberately being extreme to see what people responded with. I think that introverts - at least how I understand the term - do reflect more on their own feeling (i.e. 'introject') and also tend to have 'deeper' relationships with fewer people (I will probably get myself into trouble with that last statement). Hard to know where to draw the line.

Emotions are usually so mixed, it is hard to separate them. I've often been frustrated describing them, that's for sure!

Synova said...

I also think that the books, like HP, that do relationships well tend to concentrate on a few strong relationships. Harry has two close friends, not six.

carlos de la parra said...

Last time I heard sanity,in the standard version is not a desirable trait in writers,aside from talent as the best endowment for a writer,there is the terrible "w" word,work.
If you can find your writer's inner voice through isolation,or by living in a non stop party with your friends,(true or imaginary),this is not relevant.

Chris McMahon said...

Good point, Synova.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Carlos. I like the sound of the non-stop party.

I have heard that a writer's best resource is a bad childhood. Cruel, but probably true.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

I've heard that about comedians Chris - its probably true. Hmm, better start inventing some traumatic moments for me to be haunted by to inspire my writing...

I don't think of myself as an introvert - probably the reverse - but I certainly agree with Synova that introspective is a tag I would definitely apply to myself. I think writers need that ability to look beyond a situation and see what is behind it, driving it, which often does boil down to the relationships the people involved have with each other.

For me (at the moment), I think there is a certain amount of... I wouldn't like to call it fantasizing, but certainly wishful imagination in the characters that I create. A big part of me really wants to be surrounded by these big, upstanding (or not) personalities. The need for derring-do and such - I think the best way to describe my motivation for writing at the moment is "playing" :p

Hopefully this is true for others - I suspect it is!

matapam said...

It's a matter of empathy. You have to understand how other people feel, to be able to write Characters with believable feelings. You can do that whether you're the center of the circle or the quiet shy person on the edge.

I always thought the popularity of the original Star Trek series was a matter of the Character interactions, not the stories. We tuned in to see what our friends were doing. I think that another reason endless book series are popular. We want to visit friends.

You don't feel that way if the writer hasn't put a lot of relationships into the previous books.

C Kelsey said...

Oddly enough, while I still have some introvert tendencies, I'm far more extrovert. However, one reason I see so many introverted authors do so well at writing relationships is that even though they personally aren't good at the relationship thing, what they *are* good at is observing and processing others. And since what a writer has to do is provide that view of relationship, they tend to be quite good at it.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris,

I always thought that writers rather than having no friends had a few and very close knit. Which is why stories tend to have a "you and me against the world" feel.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good point, Sarah.

I watched a science show where they did an experiment on introverts and extroverts.

The theory was that introverts require less stimulation to reach saturation point. (Like a quieter life).

Take two groups of 20-somethings. One group are studying to be event organisers, all extroverts.
The other group are studying physics, all introverts.

They got each person to lick a lemon and then asked them to lick a strip of paper.

Stimulated by their body's reaction to the lemon, the extroverts licked 1.5 metres (can't remember the exact numbers).

The introverts licked more than twice that, one person licked three times the length.

This seemed to prove that introverts require less stimulation so they prefer walks along the beach at sunset, to partying in the street. LOL

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Jonathan. In terms of the introvert/extravert spectrum I think I fall bang in the middle - but only because I have some very introverted characteristics and some very extraverted ones that balance each other out. I think you're right - it not so much the social activity as the need to really think about it and look beyond it for motivation etc.

After I did the post, I starting thinking of all these writers I knew with large circles of friends.

I think my writing is driven by the heroic journey. I love the story of the underdog - a friend of mine calls my stories 'stickin' it to the man':) They're not all like that, but I do love the triumph of the underdog:)

Chris McMahon said...

I think you're right, matapam. It'd more that sort of need to get to the bottom of people's motivations and understand what you see.

Hey - I watched Star Trek to see Spock's pointy ears! Just kidding. Definitely the familiar friends, but ST also explored some interesting social themes, as well as some cool SF ideas (which were probably stolen, but hey, it was the first time I saw them).

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. You're right, of course. It's kind of like how a coach doesn't have to been good at the game himself, just understand a sport at a different level so he can bring it out in others.

Maybe writers are all closet Life Coaches:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. Sounds very true for me, at least. But after I did the post yesterday I started thinking of all these writers who had large circles of friends. As a few people have pointed out , I think its more a writers needs to get inside what they see and really understand it - whether they are socially mobile or not.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. Everybody knows that those results were skewed - those physics geeks had been licking their own sandpaper to build up their tolerance:)

C Kelsey said...

Chris M... I was a classic introvert throughout high school. Life experience made me change into a far different person. However, I know that my entire life I have coached people on diverse subjects. Given how many authors are coaching me at this point, perhaps there is something to the idea that they are closet coaches. Thanks to all of you for coaching me by the way.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. I don't know if you have ever done a Meyers Briggs assessment. I come out as an INFJ - introverted, intuitive, feeling, judgement. By inclination I was more of an arty child - drawn to music and story - but was forced away from this into the sciences, which I was also good at. In my work as an Engineer, I have gradually learned to operate as a INTJ - the classic scientist profile - supressing the feeling dimension and using thought instead as a primary channel (while in this context).

I guess we are all malleable.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena - I have a Physicist son who literally numbers his friends not in tens but in thousands... he was introverted and shy at school - and suddenly became extroverted and very popular at uni...

Does he lick with half his tongue, and if so, left or right :-)?

Chris McMahon said...

Ah, yes Dave. But which half does he lick sandpaper with?