Saturday, 21 September 2013

I'm not that deep

I love to read. I guess that, being a writer myself, this isn't something particularly surprising.

I'm constantly amazed at the breadth of narratives around. So many different writing styles. So many different ways to tell a story. But one thing that I really admire is the ability of writers to really dig down deep, to nail their characters in complex ways, and place them in intricate, multi-level stories.

I'm blown away with the way writers can get into their characters' heads. How they can develop lengthy interior monologues that capture so much about a character. How they can create plots that twist and turn in so many ways, beyond any reader's expectations. How they can create descriptions which make you feel like you're actually there, seeing things with your own eyes.

I'm in awe of these writers, and I'm also more than a little bit jealous. I just can't create stories like that. I can't create such complex interior worlds for my characters. I can't describe their exterior worlds in anywhere near the same detail. And there's a very good reason for that.

I'm just not that deep.

I can't do those interior monologues because I don't have them myself. My mind tends to skim over the surface, avoiding any attempts to dig down deeper. And I can't create those detailed descriptions because my eyes don't seem to register things in such a close-eyed way. They just flitter from one thing to another, getting the basic idea but not the specifics.

Is that a bad thing? Should I be upset with myself for my lack of depth? Should I make more of an effort to create more layers to myself?

I'm not sure. At this stage of my life, I figure I'm not going to change. I don't think I could ever write those "deep" sorts of stories. But maybe that's okay. Sure, there's nothing to stop me enjoying the craft that goes into creating them. But maybe there's room for my sorts of stories as well. For stories that flit around on the surface in (hopefully) surprising and amusing ways.

Who knows. Maybe readers will find their own depths in there. 


  1. One of the last things my first wife said to me before she walked out the door was, “You’re not deep. You think you are but you’re not.” That hurt me more than her leaving me. To this day, some thirty years later, it still stings. The fact is she was right—I wasn’t as deep as I thought I was (what twenty-odd-year-old is?)—but I was (and continue to be) terribly interested in deep things. What exactly ‘depth’ is is not an easy thing to define. It isn’t the same as complex or difficult. It can be couched in the simplest of language even—merely look at the parables of Jesus or the poems of William Carlos Williams—but it usually takes you to places where language struggles and as much as I love words and endeavour to translate everything into words I am nevertheless painfully aware of their limitations. Years later I wrote this poem:


           (for Jeanette)

          Love is a straight line –
          it gets right to the heart of things.

          Love squared is expansive –
          it covers a multitude of sins.

          Love to the power of three is deep –
          it takes time to explore.

          Give me your hand
          and don't be afraid.

          12 June 1994

    Love is deep. Reducing it to four letters only does it a disservice. I wrote that about ten years after my first wife and I parted company. Is it deep? It aspires to be because it aims to take the reader beyond the words on the page. That said if you’re fourteen and never been in love can you possibly hope to understand it? I’m fifty-four and still not sure I understand love but I can measure its effects on me and others. I didn’t love my first wife. I thought I did but the truth was I lusted after her and once sex stopped being enough we both could see what little there was holding us together. Clearly not enough.

    Here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago:


          As a child
                 I knew I knew everything.
          No one believed me
                 and over time I
                 forgot most of it.

          When a man
                 I thought I knew many things.
          I knew of many things
                 and I believed
                 the things I knew were mine.

          Now, of course,
                 I've grown old and it is clear
                 to me I knew nothing.
          It is the one
                 thing that I know for sure.

          Two plus two
                 is not mine, nor the capital
                 of Venezuela,
                 nor the reasons
                 I'm all alone tonight.

          02 October 2007

    I wasn’t alone when I wrote it—poetic licence—but it makes its point well enough. It was important for me to be considered deep when I was twenty. Not so much now although I still enjoy wallowing in the depths of another’s imagination.

  2. I guess what you need to ask yourself is, you *need* that skill for the stories that you want to tell? Do you think the stories will improve greatly as a whole? Do you believe that dag-lit would be compatible with those kinds of techniques?

    I really liked Scribbling. I liked its fun premise, the interesting characters, and the dialogue. Do I think that the story would be improved much more if Neville Lansdowne had a deep internal monologue with himself, expressing his grief and depression that he had doomed people's existence due to his selfishness? Do I think that it would be infinitely better if you went into the minute description of every scene, down to writing a biography for every hair on the head of the kangaroos? Of course not. I loved Scribbling for what it was. It was fun, funny, and thoughtful.

    I've seen people rock great descriptions but have boring plots. I've seen well-woven plots and stale dialogue. I've seen fantastically written character arguments, but they might as well be arguing in a white void for all the scenery the author gave.

    The point is, we can't be amazing at every bit of the craft. We might be decent in all aspects of it, but we'll always have our strengths and weaknesses. If it really does make you feel bad, do a few practice scenes and get a feel for it. But to be honest, I love your stories as they are, so don't feel that you're missing anything!