Member Rara Avis
Geesh, Brad, you raised enough points in two paragraphs to fill a small book.
Maybe later we can explore/discover/create the differences (or perhaps lack of difference?) between exploring, discovering, and creating. And I'll only briefly say that, yes, I think good writing is dependent on "truth," but probably only in the sense that it has to be internally and logically consistent. In other words, it has to "ring true."
The mask to which I referred, Brad, probably has less to do with the techniques of writing than with the psychology of writing. If you try to portray "real" events in your own life, I think the writing will often suffer for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, and a thousand other reasons I didn't mention. So, as writers, we instead lay a mask over those events and portray them as fiction. Some will lay a very thin mask over the events (risking the dangers of no mask), and others will lay a mask so thick and opaque even they have trouble discerning where reality and illusion diverge. Each writer has to paint their own mask, and it often seems to me that critics spend an inordinate amount of time trying to see through the writer's mask, to discern theme and message through personal history. Sometimes, I wish the critics would realize how hard it is for the cart to pull the horse. Sometimes, I wish the critics would realize the writing explains the history much better than the history can ever explain the writing. Most times, though, I just don't care enough about the critics to wish much of any thing.
In one sense, this is an over-simplification, because I actually believe there are many different masks. Some may be conscious, but most aren't. The best writing, I think, is composed of many layers, each with its own mask, each with its own hidden meanings. This is where we leave the realm of craftsmanship and technique, entering the world of psychology.
A bit over ten years ago, while taking YACWC (yet another Creative Writing course) at UC Irvine, I decided I wanted my stories to be "deeper." I wrote two stories during that semester (one, Soothsayer, is posted in the Prose Forum, I think) where I purposely tried to weave a tapestry of hidden layers. Those were the last two stories I ever wrote that way, because I felt, and still feel, the story suffered badly because of the artificial manipulation. It was, nonetheless, a useful experiment, I think, because since then I've paid a great deal more attention to how the best writers seem to do it. And the answer, I feel, is a combination of courage and critical detachment.
The courage comes into play when those writers throw themselves into a first draft with no fear of revealing "too much." The words they pen generate (explore/create) feelings, and they use those feelings and insights to fuel the words that follow. They build upon what they've already built, sometimes layer upon layer, mask upon mask.
The detachment surfaces during subsequent drafts, when they look at the feelings again and decide if that layer helps or hinders the real story. At this point, I think they need to be able to step away from the feelings. Some layers, good as they might be, simply don't belong with other layers.
I'm still trying to decide which is harder to develop. The courage to reveal everything? Or the detachment necessary to evaluate what you first had to courage to say?
(p.s. Titus, you can never write about another person's experiences. The best you can do is write about YOUR interpretation of those experiences. And you will inevitably reveal a lot more about yourself than about the other person.)