I’m apparently a little behind on things, because I’ve just recently discovered TED Talks. As a writer, I try really hard to stay on task and write during every free waking moment that I’m not doing Important Things, such as working for a living, grocery shopping and wondering what it feels like to fly.
In all seriousness, though, it’s nice to take a break and do something that I not only enjoy, but that will also help me become a better writing. Not that I haven’t gotten benefits from a day of hiking or baking cookies or a yoga workshop, but these TED Talks are something different.
Why? Because they touch on a myriad of topics and the speakers are from all socioeconomic backgrounds. They talk about love and sex and trust and science and, yes, writing. One such speaker prompted me to write this post today: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She talked about The Danger of a Single Story and how we can get locked into stereotypes based on having a single story in our mind about people from a certain religion or nationality or skin color. I won’t go into the whole presentation–you should watch it for yourself–but I will say that the part that hit hardest was the fact that as a young girl she wrote about light-skinned people who lived in the snow, despite that being so far from her reality.
Do we, as writers, stick to writing what we know? Where would we be without Harry Potter and It and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe? How amazing is it that we can be transported to a whole other world simply by becoming immersed in a story? I’m not trying to say that non-fiction doesn’t have it’s place in the world, because it does. Adichie’s talk really hit me at my core, as a person and as a writer.
As a writer, I gather an entire backstory for my characters, but the reader gets such a small percentage of this on the written page. As long as the characters come through consistently and truly, I’ve done my job. It’s the same in our personal lives, too. How many times have you met someone and think they only have one story? A simple version is how people can be typecast based on birth order: the oldest child is responsible, the youngest has no cares in the world.
My mom was a pre-school teacher and I remember visiting her at work one time as a teenager. One of the children started to have a meltdown because they couldn’t imagine Teacher anywhere else. She slept, ate, and lived at the school. I wonder if when the students went home, if she ceased to exist or if she went about her life in the classroom.
Just as I am not only a writer, neither do I want to write the same story over and over again, tweaking it just enough to make it seem like a whole new plot. In life, and in writing, I want to stretch and grow and meet different people and worlds.
I don’t want a single story. Not for myself or for my readers.
I’m currently working on the second draft of a novel about a young girl who has just aged out of foster care. It’s pretty raw and there are sections I don’t want to write because they make me uncomfortable. I peer into a world I don’t want to know, but it’s one where my character is and I refuse to let her hover there alone. So we sludge through it together, Jess and I, and I hope that we both get to the other side better people, having expanded out lives and become better people in the meatine.
Now, it’s time for another break with TED Talks.