Knowing Your Tics, Working Your Tics

This week we’re “showing our Freudian slips” around here. Or in other words, talking about the quirks in our psyches that end up in the stories we write.

I’ve been trying to pin down what my story tics are. It might have been a better idea to write this week’s posts for each other. I’m sure it’s clear to my fellow confessioners what my quirky issues are. Looking for them myself, though, is a bit like looking at those lesser stars in the sky. I can only sort of see them when I’m not looking right at them.

And let’s just be frank: seeing your quirks and understanding your quirks are two different things.

So after much thought, I’ve settled on three facets of my psyche that I’m comfortable sharing with you. Here they are:

I like weirdness.

Poppets. Goggly-eyed goldfish. Kevin Elsinger‘s Alice in Wonderland paintings. Pan’s Labyrinth. Kooky legends of medieval saints. Quirky bugs. Tim Burton’s art. These are just some of the things that appeal to me, but make (some of) my friends and family scrunch up their faces. (The very word ‘poppet’ gives my husband a violent shudder. I think they’re adorable.)

There’s something about strangeness that draws me. I don’t understand it, but I know it influences my characters. During a critique session, Amy McLane pointed out that all of my children characters have some kind of freak-ness about them. That, of course, made me smile.

I like finding gems in the muck.

A year or so ago, my book club read a book (which I won’t name) that was really edgy for our group. Controversial. Some members of the group chose not to read it. I wanted to see what the deal was with the book, why some people loved it and some hated it. The book was ripe with stuff I could have been offended by.

But tucked into a paragraph about halfway through the book was a sentence that, literally, took my breath away. And made me think. And changed my life.

That brings me unbelievable joy. Finding a gem in the supposed garbage heap. Encountering beauty in an otherwise hellish place.

This happens for me a lot in movies. Did you see Children of Men? That movie just about crushed my spirit. But there’s a scene — do you remember it? — when they’ve located the young mother and the baby, and the building is being blasted with gunfire. And then the soldiers hear the baby’s cry, the shelling stops and everyone goes silent and just listens to the sound they never thought they’d hear again. The scene is breathtaking and heartbreaking and gorgeous.

That’s the stuff that gets me. That contrast of hell and hope. That glimmer of good amongst the rubble.

Some people only want to read happy endings, and that’s fine. For them. But those aren’t the stories that appeal to me. I know that to find the gem, well, I have to wade through the muck. That gem I find is the happy ending.

I think the combination of these two quirks — being drawn to oddness and searching out the gem in the muck — speak to my ongoing suspicion that society often has it wrong when it comes to labels. That sometimes books and movies and people are called weird or different or bad, when if they just looked, they would find gems. That even in the ugliest moments there can be found some beauty. And even in the darkest muck we can find some light.

Perhaps my third and biggest quirk or worldview or whatever you want to call it is that I don’t think there is anything or anyone beyond redemption, whatever form that takes. A scene from a movie. A sentence from a book. A glimpse beyond a label to a person’s humanity.

And it is precisely that which I hope comes across in my work.

Now that I can see these quirks, I hope I can control the work they do in my stories. I want to learn where I should pull them back where they are too apparent or puff them up when they need more presence. I also want to know when I should avoid them altogether.

I suppose that is the take away for you in this rambling and possibly navel-gazish post:

Are you aware of your tics and how they work in your stories?

Turnabout’s fair play. I showed you my Freudian slips. You show me yours.

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