Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting Creative, Part 2: Oppose Yourself

Writers tend to have strong convictions. They feel strongly about an issue and write tirelessly about it, pouring their every emotion and baring their soul until they reveal the heart of the matter at hand in its simplest, profoundest truth.

This is not always a good thing. Such a mindset can be the culprit of an intellectual tunnel vision that shuts out contradictory evidence and opposing viewpoints from sources equally credible as the ones supporting their opinion. Worse, writing from the same perspective can cause a boredom that stifles creativity.

As a way of keeping the creative fire burning, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, think from the perspective of your nemeses. If you are a die-hard Democrat, then imagine what life must be like for Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh. If you dislike baseball, reflect on the life of a spouse or child of a major league player. If you cannot fathom a life without literature, consider how a typical day would go for one of the millions of people in the world who cannot read. If you hate Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, or Skinheads, pretend that one of their members is your beloved brother or daughter. After all, no one—not Adolf Hitler, not Idi Amin Dada, not Osama bin Laden—thinks he is engaged in doing wrong; he thinks he is right or at least is more than justified for doing wrong. Get into those heads, take something interesting from them, and use it as a springboard for a new essay or story.

This is the kind of thinking that led to making Michael Corleone in The Godfather such a compelling character. He is not just a ruthless, vengeful, power-mongering murderer; he is also a family man devoted to his family and friends—just like the best of us. Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is not merely a sadistic serial killer; he is a charming, cultured, intellectual gentleman—the sort of man we would welcome into our home.

You can oppose yourself by resisting knee-jerk-response prose quite easily. Suppose your anti-abortion stance makes you so frustrated with abortion clinics. Walk a metaphorical mile in the shoes of an abortion activist, not necessarily as she is politicking for abortion rights, but as she walks her son to school or cooks up a terrific Thanksgiving supper for dear friends. Those are the contradictions that create dramatic tension and mesmerizing narratives.

Books by Philip Vassallo