Let the Voyeurs In
The most transformative lessons in my life are the ones that make me consider the sort of person I want to be. I’m talking about, ‘Who am I?’ in those I’m-all-alone-and-there-ain’t-nobody-that-can-ever-find-me-muhaha kind of situations.
How do I truly want myself to behave?
We all garb ourselves in various personas when we are subject to the perceptions of others. I hope for myself that I make reasonable choices with regards to how I behave in public. But at my core, what kind of person do I wish to be when I’m completely safe from scrutiny?
I think that’s a fair and introspective question for people to ask themselves. I also think that question is a freakin’ gold mine for writers.
As writers, we can take these highly intimate, naked moments and turn them into something voyeuristic. It doesn’t matter if our characters are self-honest or self-delusional in these private moments, we can lay their most intimate choices bare for our readers.
I’ll give an example of this from my own life. It’s a real-life experience that I leveraged in my book CRAVINGS. It’s the story of myself as a kid and growing into a young man. I’m trying to avoid a cheesy Spiderman homage here, but it is a story where I discover the power inherent in an adult, male body and the responsibility that comes along with that power.
I’m a big guy. I grew up using handsaws to fell trees for firewood, digging postholes for fences, and carrying five-gallon buckets of steaming water to thaw the horses’ frozen water barrels. I got my first fulltime labor job when I was twelve. By the time I was seventeen, I had a powerful physical frame just like a lot of rural farm kids. When I was seventeen, I didn’t give much thought to anyone or anything else around me just like teenaged boys on every planet in the universe.
In addition to horses, goats, rabbits, ducks and one ill-fated stint with turkeys (seriously… both of my parents still bear the scars), my family always had a dog or three. One of our dogs was a Springer Spaniel that my sister named Gretchen.
Gretchen was a bit twitchy at the best of times and she unfortunately suffered from something called Springer Rage. It’s a real thing and a sad thing. You can look it up. Essentially, though, Gretchen was subject to random bouts of violent behavior. The whole family knew this. We dealt with it and got on with our lives.
My family was hanging out in our living room one evening. My parents each sat in their chairs, reading. My sister and brother were piled on one side of our couch and there, sprawled across the other side, was Gretchen.
With no space left to sit, I flopped down on the floor in front of the couch. Gretchen’s loose wires crossed and she lunged at me, jaws snapping. I caught her – like I said, we were all used to her fits – but she bit me once in the face.
I wasn’t hurt, thankfully. That would have been the death of the dog. But it scared me. And my reaction to that fear was violent.
One wall of that room is a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. It was six, maybe seven feet away from where I held Gretchen by the neck. I threw her that distance. She struck the shelves near my six-foot height. When she landed, she dragged herself mewling over to me.
God save us from the brainless acts of young men.
All this set up is for the delivery of one line of dialogue. It came from my father. He took my arm and pulled me several steps down the hallway. I remember that I was still shaking when he told me this. “Son, you’re a man now. You can kill that dog, but you can’t hurt her.”
The meaning of those words has changed for me over the years, too much so to include in an already overly long blog post. But I think the evolution of meaning only goes to underscore the personal significance those words have held for me. They remind me of action, reaction and consequence in a deeply private and personal way.
I harnessed that significance when writing CRAVINGS. It’s not the plot of the book or even a theme for that matter. However, I was able to leverage that introspection-inducing experience to frame the consequences of my protagonist’s choices. Also, it underpins and humanizes the motivations behind one of the story’s antagonists.
That little anecdote does a lot of heavy lifting in the book. It takes a type or kind of experience that is generally very private and exposes it. Shines a light on it. And, hopefully, it allows readers to experience that intimate process as their own.
Andy Rogers is an Alaskan father, husband, outdoorsman, writer, cartoonist, and gamer. We’re talking dice and cards here, folks. You can keep your gadgets.