by wjw on March 22, 2018

So I’m halfway through reading this novel when I realize that the author has been through therapy.

There’s nothing good or bad about this, and it doesn’t affect whether or not it’s a successful story, but while reading I realized that therapy can be apparent in the toolkit that the author brings to the work.

Being through therapy provides you with a method of looking at psychological states, family relationships, self-destructive behaviors, traumatic experiences, addictions, etc.  And it also provides a vocabulary for describing all of that, as well as means of coping with those sorts of problems.

That toolkit is most useful in fiction when describing moments of self-realization, such as “My husband is trying to separate me from my friends so that I will be completely dependent on him,” or “How did I not notice that I’m totally gay?”, or “My sad loner schtick is turning me into an actual sad loner,” or “My friends have all become adults while I have remained an increasingly desperate juvenile,” or “I’m an Internet troll not because I’m a brilliant iconoclast denouncing the follies of our time but because I’m an angry cowardly loser shitbird who lives in my mother’s basement and has utterly failed to get a real life outside of toxic social media.”

(Not that anyone has actually ever had that last realization.)

I’ve never had my head shrunk, so I don’t have that particular toolkit available to me when I write.  I can describe my characters’ emotional states pretty well, and decades of observing the human condition has given me a good idea of how people interact with each other, and how people react to trauma, but for me psychological states retain an element of mystery, and my characters’ response to problems tends to be limited, my favorites being “withdraw deeper into self,” “provide a clever distraction so I don’t have to think about this,” and “let’s blow some shit up.”

The danger of using the therapy toolkit is that the characters’ revelations and solutions can become too pat, but that’s the problem with every author’s toolkit.

And, in the end, authors employ the tools they’ve got.  Hemingway famously said that the best training for a writer was to have an unhappy childhood, but some of us prosper even though we hail from one of Tolstoy’s happy families, all alike.

Probably the most successful writers, in terms of a large audience are those who probe not their own heads, but those of their readers.  They find out what their readers want, and they provide it, usually by the cartload.  These aren’t usually the writers I seek out myself, since I’m not fond of being pandered to; but if the writers are unhappy with that, they’ll have plenty of money to afford the necessary therapy.

Jerry March 22, 2018 at 8:00 pm

Oh moebius goodness. This entry went backwards and sideways but somehow wound up right where it started. Like a palindrome between two mirrors, seeing reflexive images of a tautology holding an Ouroboros.

To quote Dicky Smothers: Am I confused, or is it me?

To quote Roseanne Roseannadanna: Never Mind. I think I need some liquid medicine, neat, for my bruised brain.

To quote Walter Jon Williams: My brain! My precious brain!

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