Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Holding Your Tongue

Recently, I had an interview for a job at the cosmetics counter of a local department store. Phase one was a phone interview, and when the woman on the other end asked me why I wanted to work in cosmetics, I began my response with, “Not to buy too much into the beauty myth, but.” Amazingly, I was invited to interview in person, although I didn’t end up getting the job.

I was surprised to have the opportunity to meet the next person in the chain of command because running my jaw tends to get me in trouble. Throughout the years, I’ve said all sorts of things I shouldn’t. A few times, serious consequences have followed. Holding my tongue seems to be the best strategy, but it’s easier said than done, if you’ll forgive the cliché.

Fictional characters are lucky. They can say what they want with impunity from the author. (Other characters? Not so much.) I encourage writers to try out all sorts of dialogue for their characters. It may help you find the right voice for that character or even the best direction for the story. In some cases, doing so could be therapeutic for you, the writer, but it can also be dangerous.

Sylvia Plath agonized over the autobiographical nature of her novel The Bell Jar. Anyone who has ever drawn inspiration from their own lives will know a bit of that feeling. In Plath’s case, she was able to make her characters come alive on the page through drawing from tics of family, friends, and acquaintances. She took the extra step of first publishing under a pseudonym. Her ultimate success has, perhaps, proved her literary instincts correct.

But if you’re like me, you tread carefully to forego any drama. We can create enough of that in our day-to-day lives without adding to it on the page. Still, we should never be afraid to explore the possibilities, so long as we’re willing to rein it in and protect others while still remaining true to our artistic vision.


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