Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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Being as honest as I can.

I did a Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything") last week. It seemed to go well; lots of people asked me lots of questions, and some of them were questions I had heard before and some of them were questions that were totally new, and I typed answers until my hands actually started to cramp up. Yes: I took stress damage from a website, because it was that active, and that much fun.

Toward the end of the session, someone asked a question that I've heard before, in a variety of different forms. It boils down to, essentially, "Why did you choose to do this thing with which I did not agree?" Sometimes it's about a character dying, or an animal dying, or a character leaving the cast. Sometimes it's about the relationships between characters. But it comes up, again and again, and I keep trying to answer it. During the AMA, I came as close as I think I'm ever going to come to an answer. So here, in modified form, it is:

People ask me "Why did you decide to go that way?" a lot. There's a big assumption in that question, and it's one that's gotten me in trouble before, for answering in a way that someone felt was flippant. So please understand that I am in no way meaning to be flippant: I'm just trying to unpack the way I work.

I didn't decide anything.

I frequently say that my subconscious spends a lot of time lying to my conscious mind, and that's not far from the truth. It's not uncommon for me to write my way into elegant, if unusual solutions, react with surprise, and look back to find a hundred pages of foreshadowing that was right there, if only I'd taken the time to look. Part of me clearly knew what it was doing, and just didn't inform the rest. I think this is because that part of me is the smarter part, and it knows that I over think when given time to do so.

With every death, betrayal, or departure, I reached a point in that story where something needed to happen, and the characters said "This is the thing, this is what is going to happen." I build for characters, not for plot, but still, every time, I've said "You are wrong," because every time, it's been something that I didn't want to do. And every time, the story has said, "They are right," and when I looked back at the story, the signs were there all along. They were there from the very first chapter, sometimes even from the very first page. They are often small, subtle signs. They're not always billboards. But they're always there.

In a lot of cases I've tried to find another way, because I know that if something makes me uncomfortable, it's probably going to make some of my readers uncomfortable, too. But I always stop trying when I realize that any such solution would be overly convoluted...and more, it would be dishonest. I am telling stories. Storytelling is a form of lying, but it's a form of lying used to tell bigger truths. If you start turning the story itself into a lie, if you start forcing the narrative into a shape that isn't natural, it all falls apart. I have to make these lies as honest as I can, or their centers will not hold.

And that is why, no matter who you are or what made you ask this question, I did the thing you didn't like.

I don't regret being honest with the story. It's what I've promised, over and over again, to do. I am sorry that some of the lies I've used to tell the truth have made some people uncomfortable. I think that's a healthy response, quite honestly.

I would still do it again, if that was what the story needed.
Tags: contemplation, writing
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