Not too long ago, I was asked how I go about creating beauty in writing, and what beauty in story writing actually is.
Everyone is acquainted with the concept of beauty and the debate it has stirred. How can you establish a “standard” of beauty when the subject of beauty is so subjective (bear with me)? After extensive discussion and class projects and more discussion, I can only say that each person has a unique sense of what beauty means, even if that sense is fed by what’s popular. You know those moments when you read an article on Yahoo! about the latest fashions? Well… I’ll tell you what; some of those outfits (most, I should say) are… very unattractive to say the least. Why ANYONE would be willing to strut out in some of those get-ups is something I will never understand. Initially, my appreciation for something like that is very, very low. However, it’s good to keep in mind that someone created it; someone appreciates fashion as an art and as a way to express themselves. To them, it is beauty, and when I think about those odd outfits in that light, I find I can appreciate it on a very basic level, as artist to artist.
Writing can be considered in the same way. What I think of as beautiful will probably be very different from what another author feels is beautiful, and those ideas on beauty will change as we all get older and our horizons expand. That being said, though, I think there are a couple aspects of writing that are particularly striking, especially when done well.
This is something that I’ve picked up on as something very essential to a beautiful piece of writing. I am convinced that there is nothing more beautiful than raw human (and I don’t mean that in a cannibalistic way… honest). In Les Mis, for example, Fantine sells herself for the sake of her child; she reaches the gravest point of desperation in her need, and yet she still loves her child enough to give her up so she can work for her sake, and to die in her efforts to support Cozette. I haven’t read the book yet, but I plan on it (hopefully this summer when I have a little bit more time). But really, think about it. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve seen enough to know what I’m talking about. Revisiting that movie in my head is overwhelming me a little bit, actually… it is so rich in beauty because of ugliness and gross corruption. As much as people hate to see the bad bits of life, and as cozied away as we try to make ourselves from it, that is where the stark reality of life is, and that is where you’re going to find the most evident expressions of beauty, especially through avenues such as love, rescue/redemption, and restoration.
Now, as to creating it in story writing? It’s tough. You don’t want to force your readers to feel sorry or exuberant and happy for your characters, so the goal is to earn the reader’s emotions (in other words, as my professor would say, don’t go the easy, cliched route). Traveling the hard road requires you to dig deep and get to know your characters and then write them as they are, rather than what you want them to be. A character will develop him/herself; if you’ve written anything more than a couple pages, you’ll notice how it works.
I haven’t spent enough time really getting to know my characters, and I can tell you, it shows. In workshopping classes, character development and the believability of said characters is one of the weaknesses that other students pick out of my writing, so I’m not exactly an authority on this subject. But, I do know enough to say that when your story/characters are grounded in the reality of who they are, what they’re doing, and where they are (emotionally, physically, etc), they will shine. When they are tested and the reality of their character is exposed, a reader will take a step back and shake their head, chills might run across their skin, and they might read that beautiful, real moment again.
So, I’d say that the first step in creating beauty in story writing is to foster reality and believability in your characters and the situations they’re in. Don’t sacrifice reality for artificiality. =)
Stay tuned for another post about creating beauty in writing! =)