August 10, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Character from Addiction & Grace

A year or so ago, I read a book called ADDICTION & GRACE: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, by Gerald G. May, MD, Psychiatry in which May delineated how virtually anything could become an addiction and no amount of huffing and puffing (pardon the pun) on our part would "make us better".

While he himself, is a Christian, he draws both examples and advice from many spiritual traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, secular philosophy and psychotherapy. His ultimate conclusion is that we can do nothing alone -- we must become part of something larger than us. To find that "something", he urges us to explore the Spaciousness, that place in us that does NOT include our addictions and attachments. Once there, we will not only find it uncomfortable, but downright terrifying! But we will also find cleansing and freedom.

It occurred to me then, that this book might be a goldmine for me as a writer -- what more interesting quest could there be than a human stranded in an alien society who also has to deal with his attachment to (take your pick of attraction and aversion addictions):

(ATTRACTION) anger, being loved, eating, lying, marriage, music, popcorn, reading or winning...

(AVERSION) anger, being judged, independence, intimacy, people of different beliefs, slimy creatures, vulnerability

How might these addictions/attachments affect his or her performance of some critical duty among aliens? How might these addictions/attachments manifest themselves in an elf? (Are aliens and hobbits even SUBJECT to addictions or attachments? There's a story waiting to happen right there!)

Adding a layer of personal struggle to outward confusion has ALWAYS been the hallmark of great writing both mundane and speculative. Where would Toshio have been in David Brin's award-winning STARTIDE RISING if he hadn't been wrestling with self-worth and age issues? I'm currently reading OFF ARMAGEDDON REEF by David Weber (at the recommendation of a former student-now-friend) and the characters there not only have to deal with an alien race out to destroy them, but a colonial founder with an addiction to being loved AND an aversion to intimacy -- his solution? To make himself a god. His conflict formed an entire society which now must deal with the aftermath.

If you want a handy, slim book to spark character development, then skim through this one.

You won't be sorry.

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