Writers are often told to think about themes and ‘motivations’. Why do characters do what they do? Today I have been thinking about this and it seems obvious to me that any writer is going to either write about ‘feelings’ and motivations that they have had personally or they imagine or ‘empathise’ about how it might feel to be in a certain situation. This, it seems to me, is the very stuff of writing itself. Especially fiction.
The problem comes with the idea that the feelings that I might have, or imagine to have, may not be the feelings that others would feel in a given situation. Is there actually a set of feelings and responses that we all have? Something in us that is universal?
That swirling feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you are deeply attracted to someone and your emotions translate into a physical feeling you cannot ignore. Have you had that? Does it actually ‘feel’ the same for me as it does you? Or maybe my brief description of it is inadequate?
Commentators often talk of ‘universal’ themes such as ‘love’, ‘jealousy’, ‘conflict’ etc. In the classic plays of the Greeks or in Shakespeare for example. As if such things are fixed and it is a given we all know what they mean no matter when or where we come from. I guess I have a certain pedantic problem with that idea. Firstly those plays were written in very different times to now. And in very different forms of language. Modern scholars can only really speculate about meanings in such plays and pretty much guess that those playwrights meant what we think they mean. The reality is that we have no idea what they meant, and without a time machine, we will never know.
The logical extension of this relativistic idea is that when I write I can never know if any potential reader has a clue what I mean. But over the last few months I have learnt to be less pessimistic about it. Does it matter if people misunderstand? No. Will readers be entertained and empathise with my characters? I hope so…
I like to believe that those beautiful butterflies are real and that we have all felt them and in turn they have made us all feel so alive…even if it’s only for the briefest of moments…
What do you think?
© 2012 Simon Poore
Where will things be in a hundred years? Or two hundred. I like to think about it even though I know I won’t be around to see it.
I watched the fifties film version of H.G. Wells ‘The Time Machine’ the other day. This is a story I have always loved, since I was a teenager. Wells was remarkably prescient in many of his stories, predicting things, and describing things that often came to pass. For example he foresaw nuclear weapons and men on the moon. And even predicted the global conflict of the second world war in 1933 (in ‘The Shape of things to come’). He predicted aerial warfare and tanks and all kinds of things.
In ‘The Time Machine’ the time traveller journeys to an amazing far flung future where the people are divided between those who live above ground and those below, evolved into strange new forms, by the aftermath of a long finished war. Mind you he also predicted invisibility and interplanetary war. Maybe these will come to pass. Eventually.
If you have never read any Wells then I urge you to do so. You can get classic stories like ‘The Time Machine’ or ‘War of the Worlds’ free as ebooks nowadays (click here to see the free selection of his work you can now get).
So I wonder what things will be like. When I was young I used to think that by now, in the 21st century we would be living on the moon, wearing shiny silver spacesuits and riding around in hover cars. I distinctly remember being a bit scared and in awe on New Years Eve 1983, simply because it was going to be 1984 (what would Orwell have thought?). Lots of things didn’t come to pass. some did (I sit here typing this on an IPad, didn’t they have those in Star Trek first?)
So now when I imagine the future I do it through a different, more post modern lens.
Amazing things will come to pass: –
I predict more space travel, some for ordinary people and some to planets in our solar system.
I predict faster global travel. The world will shrink further.
I predict unimaginable computers, amazingly powerful and ergonomic, all connected and doing things for us we don’t even know about, possibly implanted inside us, connected to us.
I predict medical breakthroughs, some that will enable the fortunate to live much longer lives.
I predict that ‘nano’ technology and ‘bio’ technology will change the world in ways we can’t imagine yet…could be bad and/or good.
Some terrible things will come to pass: –
I predict a continuation of terrible wars, conflict, starvation and disease, as the world population continues to grow and the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ increases.
I predict horrendous natural disasters, some caused by global warming (and yes I do believe in that!).
I predict an increasing inability of national governments to cope with global problems, as we creep towards a truly multi-cultural global society.
I predict that millennia old prejudices of race, religion and creed will continue to fuel suspicion and distrust between essentially well meaning peoples.
These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. It will be a post modern future because the amazing progress we make will not benefit everyone. Some people’s lives will be worse in the future than they are now.
Of course, I may be completely wrong, after all the only certainty is change. But one final thought, look back two hundred years and think about what that was like compared to now.
One way to do this is to visit the ‘Gapminder’ website – http://www.gapminder.org/ – click on ‘Gapminder World’ and watch the animated graph which shows how nations have faired over the last two hundred years. Please take a look and think about where we are all going….
As ever all comments, ideas and, in this case predictions are welcome…
© 2012 Simon Poore
H.G. Wells – great moustache! Wonder if they will come back in fashion in the future?
A photograph of an actual 19th century time machine…