Capturing Life’s Complexity through Writing

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.Throughout my public sector career, writing was a constant. In my recent transition to retirement, I was so grateful to discover the portability of the writing skills that I had acquired along the way in helping me pursue my dream of creative writing.

I always enjoyed the process: A manager would give me the broad parameters of what they wanted to say in a written product and then would send me on my way to write the first draft. The next meeting usually involved reviewing the draft together and exchanging ideas on possible improvements. As we approached the final version, we fine-tuned the product together, ensuring that it met its intended purpose.

One of the comments that often challenged me along the way was the question, “Can we go deeper with this point?”

From my earliest days, I knew that the question could mean many different things and could lead down many different paths.

I recall it was always a delicate balance, not just adding depth, but value-added depth, propelling an idea forward without getting into the weeds. It was about adding quality without adding bulk.

That challenge made writing for the business world interesting and fun for me. When a document reached final approval, I was always left with a huge sense of satisfaction that I got the balance right. That joy was one of the signs to me that writing was my calling and life’s purpose.

From the biographies I have read about authors, playwrights and screenwriters, it seems that the editing process is essentially the same when an author is working with an editor, helping a work of fiction reach its potential.

That being the case, I am not expecting any huge surprises when I get to that point, nor is there much risk in my being offended at constructive feedback.

But even as I work on my first scripts, the little voice in my head often asks, “Can we go deeper?”

The resulting challenge that often percolates in my subconscious is the depth to which to explore a character’s feelings or emotional responses.

For example, behind happiness, there could be a wide range of motivations and emotions: a sense of relief when an uncomfortable situation is over; a sense of accomplishment when a goal was reached; a feeling of elation when a favourable response was received in regard to a challenging situation; or a sense of vindication when justice prevailed. Happiness can be inherently complex, depending on the circumstances.

Similarly, cause and effect play a role in emotions. Does a character’s emotional state echo back to their upbringing, their values, their influences, or to some trauma that they may have experienced? Below the surface, there can be an unlimited number of factors influencing a character’s reactions.

As much as life’s trajectory isn’t a straight line, neither are human emotions, as well as character emotions.

Does a writer need to go into that level of detail? What I am finding is that it depends on the situation and the story’s overall trajectory.

Personally, I like to go ahead and write it, as it helps me to get into the head and motivation of a character. The resulting passages may not make it to the script, but it may make it into the story notes I keep on the side, explaining my thought process behind the story and characters.

From there, the part I find most intriguing (which echoes back to my career) is to take a pivotal passage and to ask, “Do I still need to dig a little deeper?”
The question is, how deeply?

– Deep enough because it will have a ripple effect on a series of events?
– Deep enough because it will explain a character’s behaviour later in the story?
– Deep enough to make a reader/viewer pause for thought? Is it a learning opportunity?
– Deep enough to strike a nerve that has people reaching for the tissue box when hearing the gut wrenching details of a character’s torment?

To me, that depth of character study is an endless source of inspiration because it can go in so many directions.

I sometimes wonder if this is one of the reasons why I watched so many soapy serial dramas over the years. I marveled at how fans would get so attached with the characters, despite the stories being works of fiction. With the luxury of multiple episodes to deeply explore a character’s psyche, how can someone not get attached?

How I admire those writers that can take fictional characters and infuse them with just the right amount of characteristics to make them complex, fully-formed, relatable, almost life-like human beings.

What I hope to achieve as a writer is to create those multi-dimensional fictional characters through which viewers or readers can identify. I look forward to creating complex tension for characters and then to masterfully untangle the mess for the viewers.

In demonstrating how my characters cope with life’s challenging situations, my hope as a writer is to offer readers and viewers an opportunity to see themselves in my characters, as well as a glimmer of inspiration or optimism should they be dealing with similar adversity.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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