Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Passion Redux

Because a lot of people left interesting comments on my last post, I want to write about this subject again. I'm not sure I made myself clear. Yes, I believe you must feel a genuine desire to write whatever story is on your keyboard for its own sake, and not just because you think it's "marketable." But there are, in my opinion, also some other considerations:

Passion is, in mathematical terms, "necessary but not sufficient." You also need to know how to construct a good story. You may have a genuine and deep passion for the history of table cloths, but unless you can create interesting characters and a compelling plot line, you're better off writing non-fiction about your table cloths.

Characters, too, need passion. Samuel Beckett came up in some posts. I hated Waiting for Godot. I wanted to yell at the characters, "Hey! You up there on the stage! Don't just wait -- play chess! Knit an afghan! Write a sonnet! Start a soccer league! Use your time here with some passion!" However, not everyone feels this way about Godot. I will say this, however, from 30 years of writing: It's much easier to write a good story when your characters desperately want something and act to get it.

Having "passion" for a story doesn't mean that every time you sit down at the keyboard, you're bursting with creativity (what Bruce Sterling calls "holy fire.") Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. A useful analogy is a good marriage. Many days you actively feel love for your wife, but some days you quarrel, and some days you just wish she'd leave you alone so you can watch football in peace. Overall, however, there is genuine commitment between you two. So it is with a story for which you feel passion.


Mike Flynn said...

Nor should we forget that passio, passionis is the Latin for suffering.

James A. Ritchie said...

I have mixed feelings about this. Passion, I think, merely makes a story easier to write because it makes sitting down and writing it more fun.

But I don't believe for a second that the writer must feel something in order for the reader to feel it. It's been my experience that a story coldly and intellectually constructed may well be a better story, and bring out passion in the readers, which is where passion belongs.

I don't believe good, interesting character or a compelling plot line comes from passion, but from knowledge. I'd put life experience high on the needed knowledge list.

Passion is a good thing. It helps keep a writer motivated. It makes writing fun. But I don't think it has much of anything to do with quality.

lifeform666 said...

"I hated Waiting for Godot... However, not everyone feels this way about Godot."

At least not these people:

"In the [British] National Theatre’s NT2000 poll, theatre professionals [playwrights, directors, actors, guilds, etc.] voted Waiting for Godot the most significant English language play of the 20th century."

But none of them were very passionate.

Luke said...

Without passion, what's the point?

Mike Flynn said...

And without a point, whence the passion?

Luke said...

Hm, is it possible to have a passion play without a point? I seem to recall some.