The Writer As Hero


The drive to write is like any other artistic drive. There’s the deep connection to language, tone, rhythm, color or form, sure—but aside from that in-the-genes need there’s a more conscious and maybe less noble urge to tell our own story, in whatever form it takes. Always wanted to solve a murder? Invent a character who will do it for you. Always wanted to sail a tall ship and steal treasure and make your enemies walk the plank? Sounds like fun.

And a lot safer to write a story about someone else doing those things than living the adventures.

And then there’s the self-righteous need to punish evildoers, the passion to make the miseries of life come out with happy endings.

To justify the dumb things we’ve done in our own lives. To make heroes of ourselves.

I’m not saying any of this is wrong. But we write these stories precisely because we are not really heroes. And oh, how we want to be.

But then I can’t really speak for everyone, can I? I’m really talking about myself. As a child, I wanted to be a pirate, or at least Nancy Drew. The best real adventure was creeping through a secret passageway to call the police while a robber held a gun on my father. Life in a corner store. But there weren’t too many of those. So I made some up. Robbers hiding in a church belfry. A janitor who looked suspicious and needed to be followed until I was late for dinner.

But then I became a teenager and finally an adult and it wasn’t as easy to convince either of those real characters that these stories were true, so I had to resort to making stuff up.

I think it’s best that way. If a story is too true, too close to our souls and our lives, it can become a tortured journey to the bottom of memory and may not work so well as a story. It has to be changed. Formed. Sculpted. And then it’s not that story any more.

It can come down to telling the truth or telling a story. The best art does both. The greatest artists are able to do both.




2 Responses

  1. Wonderfully expressed, Shelley. We can live the lives of thousands in our imagination, visit the wonders of Myanmar on the evening news, and simultaneously stroke the purring cat-in-our-laps.

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I often wonder what people do if they have no creative outlet. Daydream? Drink?

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