IN THE PSYCHIATRIST’S CHAIR.
A couple of weeks ago I asked the question: ‘Are writers social oddballs?’ This elicited quite a response so I thought I’d expand on it. In the last piece, my closing comment was this: The only extra thing to chuck into the mix is that individualism, tenacity and determination are hallmarks shared by the best main protagonists. The brain behind the pen also shares those attributes because, without them, writers would do something a lot more safe and sensible. So are writers a breed apart? Do they feel more deeply, get exercised about injustice more frequently? Do they have soaring highs and unfathomable lows? In other words, are they programmed on a different emotional setting to ‘civilians’?
I once heard Nicci French say that the reason crime fiction is so popular is that everyone believes his or her own life is like living in a thriller. I’m not sure the ‘everyone’ tag applies. I know plenty of people who seem to puddle along untroubled by the vicissitudes of life and barely break a sweat when, for example their house sale/holiday/business deal falls through. ‘Seem’ is probably the operative word, but this brings me straight back to the disposition of the individual concerned. If you’re of a benign persuasion, you’ll weather stormy events a little better than those who won’t bend with the proverbial breeze. Good for your mental health, for sure, but where’s the drama in that?
You see, I think only those with a strong dramatic streak can write great drama. Put another way, you have to care and be seen to care. Some might argue that a robust moral compass is a pre-requisite for writing crime fiction. I actually think a strong grasp of psychology is more important. An understanding of the wide spectrum of human behaviour, all those (not fifty) shades of grey and the motivation behind why people do what they do, is essential if you’re going to strike that essential note of authenticity. So does that mean that science fiction writers are more cerebral and romantic fiction authors are more in touch with their passionate side? Are comedy writers a laugh a minute? Do writers of Westerns don cowboy boots and Stetsons, and spy writers grey raincoats and strained expressions to get into the writerly groove? And, ahem, where does that leave those writers who pen X-rated sex romps? Nobody is suggesting for one second that, in order to craft crime fiction, you have to rob a bank, or worse, although I dare say it would definitely lend a healthy dose of credibility to a story if one did.
I firmly believe that writers really do have heightened senses. It probably accounts for the high rates of depression suffered by those who create. Only the truly confident escape feelings of low self-esteem and the occasional sense that, not only is your work trash, but you are too. The trick is to translate those inner feelings of self-doubt, rage or disillusionment at the world and make them work for you. Faking it won’t wash. Sure, cool-headed individuals can and do write powerful fiction, but I bet they are in the minority.