A recent movie version of Cyrano de Bergerac has me thinking about fiction authors releasing their thoughts into the world. Through love letters Cyrano writes to the lovely Roxane, on behalf of a young soldier wooing her, he expresses love for her that he’s too bashful to share directly.
Most writers, safe to say, are introverts with rich interior lives. We quietly curate personal experiences and observe human interactions and reactions. We compost, in our subconscious, scenarios both jarring and tender, impulsive and conservative. When we then write the interiority of a character or their response to crisis or great love, some of ‘us’ muddles in there too.
In Margaret Atwood’s “Negotiating with the Dead”, she writes that, “We assume not easily that a text exists to communicate between the writer and the reader. But doesn’t it also act as a disguise, even a shield-a protection.” … “Thus the book as a form, expresses (the author’s) own emotions and thoughts, while concealing from view the person who has concocted them.”
A lot of books on craft recommend imagining your ideal reader as you write. Picture her. Find a representative photo, tape it to a wall above your desk. Remember that’s who you’re writing for. That may work for some, but not for me. If, while creating, I think of people reading the book, my imagination will be immobilized. By default, I must create for myself. I don’t think of this selfishly. For me, writing is a physical and emotional need that must be met. A story downloads in my head and I’m driven by curiosity to see how it ends.
The world on the page is real to me and now I must make it come alive for the reader. I strive to distill the piece to its clearest and most enjoyable form. This process is for the reader, but also for creative satisfaction and in service of the art. Cyrano must have likewise agonized over his letters.
I can accept this idea that the book is a shield. What writer (who’s ever been challenged about a line of text) hasn’t replied, “Hey, the character said that, not me”? But then again, if the book is a shield, it suggests that readers try to look past it to see us, and that we likewise try to see them.
Do our readers think of us as they travel through our stories? A book’s author becomes front of mind once a reader finishes their novel. The End signals a mental curtain call. Authors are Oz behind the curtain or behind the shield where Cyrano de Bergerac must have wished he’d stayed.
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