“There’s so much I could’a done if they’d let me”

Today, because I’m in such a cheerful mood, I’m mainlining Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads album. Somewhere in my CD collection I’ve got a copy of his b-sides and rarities triple-disc thingy, which includes a four-part, extended thirty-minute long version of O’Malley’s Bar. That’s going on next, ’cause sometimes, misogyny be damned, you just need a series of songs about killing every mother-fucker in the room in an unrelenting and utterly debauched fashion.

This is my alternative to curling up on the floor of my bedroom and having a temper tantrum, ’cause really the closest I’m getting to articulating my mood these days is the ability to randomly shout “Hate! Hate! Hate!” at the top of my lungs. There are very few things in my life that aren’t filling me with loathing at the moment, from my less-interesting dayjob (which puts Fight Club into all kinds of interesting new perspectives for me) to my more interesting dayjob (which I hate, primarily, because it’s kinda awesome and not my primary dayjob, which just makes the other dayjob even worse) to my neighbor (seriously, *turn down your fucking stereo at 4 AM*) to myself (which, really, is a let me count the ways kind of thing).

None of this is particularly new – anger has probably been my default state since I was thirteen or fourteen – but I usually have a better grip on it than I do right now. I can cobble together a mask that more or less resembles a civilized human being and go out and function in civilized society. Normally I can swallow anger and work at it rationally, figuring out solutions, or I can vent at the things that are making me less than pleased through the medium of fiction. Or I’ll catch up with friends and rant at them until the anger burns itself out and I’ve overused the words fuck, at which point I’m more clear-headed and able to behave myself a little better.

The anger’s rarely directed at specific people, except for myself, since it’s really just a general pissed-offness at the world. I’d actually be more worried if I woke up and I wasn’t pissed off about something, because the world is a terminally unfair place and I continue to exist in it, which means I’m going to keep finding things that make me angry.

For all that it’s got a reputation as a negative emotion, I actually think anger is important.

Anger is, after all, where writing comes from.

It’s possible this isn’t a universal thing for all writers, but I’m pretty sure it’s not just me. I vaguely remember Ray Bradbury talking about stories coming from a place of anger in his Zen and the Art of Writing collection of essays, and there’s any number of writers with overtly angry or political stances being displayed in their fiction. The artistic myth of the angry young man is almost as predominant as the artist driven crazy by the muse, and of the two I find the angry young man more palatable (at least, once man is switched out for person). At least the AYM/W is in control of his/her artistic practice, rather than sacrificing it to some unnameable entity and refusing to take responsibility for what they do.

Really, that’s all window dressing. The real reason fiction comes from a place of anger is this: all stories are revolutions.

It’s one of those ideas that’s ingrained in the very structure of the story – whether you spend a thousands words, five thousand words, an entire novel, or a three-book trilogy – you are building towards a climax. One of the best descriptions of the climax came from a film lecturerer I worked with a few years back, who described it as point where the most important moral decision of the book is made, the one that changes the character’s world forever. The good are rewarded, the evil are punished. As a writer you establish a new status quo, correcting whatever flaw in the world existed in the opening of the story, and so there’s a series of political decisions being made about what’s incorrect and what isn’t*.

And really, if you’re not angry about something, why bother going to the trouble? Whenever I’m stuck on a story, or I look back on something I’ve written and don’t really feel satsified by it, it’s invariably because the anger isn’t there. Whether it was never ther, or if I simply lost it, is occasionally unclear, but it’s certainly gone in that particular reading.

*Want an example? Lets take, say, Star Wars. For all that the original Star Wars ends with a bang at its climax, the actual destruction of the Death Star actually pales next to the two big decisions made just prior – Luke Skywalker turning off his computer, rejecting the technology (which, in Star Wars, is the tool of the Empire since they’ve got the big death machine) and embracing the spirituality of the Force, and the sudden return of the Millennium Falcon to save the day and align the morally gray Han Solo with the white hats from there forward. Destroying the Death Star is really just the reward for those decisions. Destroying the Death Star is a physical victory, but the emotional victory of these two moments

  4 comments for ““There’s so much I could’a done if they’d let me”

  1. 16/04/2011 at 4:03 AM

    …point where the most important moral decision of the book is made, the one that changes the character’s world forever. The good are rewarded, the evil are punished. As a writer you establish a new status quo, correcting whatever flaw in the world existed in the opening of the story, and so there’s a series of political decisions being made about what’s incorrect and what isn’t.

    I like that explanation. It seems like a useful tool for making sure there's a proper climax, that the narrative does more than go through the motions of a story.

    I agree that much of writing is a form of catharsis, though I don't think it can only come from anger. Grief is another one. Joy might be one, though I can't think of anything I've written that *started* from joy. Basically, any emotion strong enough to get a writer riled enough to get over procrastination and the Dread Shoulder Editor.

  2. 16/04/2011 at 10:40 PM

    Does this mean the quality of our work will inevitably decline with age, as we become less angry?

    It seems to me, the more experience we have of the world, the more we can see two sides of every argument, and so it becomes difficult to maintain an unyielding and passionate position on any issue.

  3. Melinda
    16/04/2011 at 11:15 PM

    I agree with Jess. I think writing and, by extension reading, are emotional addictions, not just anger. It's preferable to have a real life that's placid, but people like to feel first love, or adrenaline of danger, etc. and those are available in stories when real life is a safe place to be.

  4. Flinthart
    20/04/2011 at 4:32 AM

    Interesting.

    I've been actively overcoming anger for twenty years. To the point where actually, I'm pretty damned good at it.

    I'll have to think about this.

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