word by word
Grief is a large part of several narratives. It doesn’t merely spell out the physicality of it but speaks of large questions with even larger consequences. I’m talking about paradigm-shifting mental landscapes. We lose memories every day; we shed our identities from time to time and seek redemption in the fleeting permanence of it all.
Several writers talk about this gripping emotion that has pushed them to analyse relationship dynamics, understand power struggles, and question points of view. Grief has found an evocative way into several non-fiction bestsellers, and has laid the gravy thick on us, writers of fiction. So why does non-fiction succeed, especially in terms of navigating heavy emotions such as grief and melancholy, and how can we work with our everyday experiences?
Our realisation of bewildering contradictions makes up the mysteries that life has to offer. Devotion and sacrifice. Love and hate. Affection and betrayal. These elements work as crutches in forming exploratory narratives that go on to become memoirs and polemical (critical) fiction pieces. There is a certain pulse to every piece of work ever written, and it is the pace-changing continuity that makes the story extraordinary, relatable, and personal. We are writers. We are arrogant and harmless, but our words can change the world, especially when they hold the truth.
Non-fiction is everything that is an explosion of every magnetic thought you’ve ever had. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Imagine writing every thought and stray thought that pops up in your mind, and constantly trying to birth a story out of it. Feels impossible yet? Anne Lamott, in her path-breaking Bird by Bird discusses the writing process. She calls it an instruction on writing and life. Not a suggestion, but an instruction. Like a recipe.
I can imagine myself standing in Lamott’s study taking down notes furiously. Take two parts of reflection and whisk until you have soft peaks. Now, add 10 tablespoons of drama, and 15 teaspoons of authentic voice. Sure, throw in some perspective, just in case. Now careful. Fold, don’t beat. They must blend, and not cling to the vessel like star-crossed lovers. If non-fiction was an unbridled collection of everything we thought, ate, and scratched at, then why do so many of us struggle with writing them? Simply because we haven’t found the truth in it. We haven’t found the reason it all ties together. In other words, we forgot the damn butter.
Decisions make reasons. Reasons make stories. The cardinal rule in writing is to make the reader care. Why did someone say something? Why does the wizard never discard his cloak? Why does the Geisha love the process to her makeup? Why did I need to know that a character always smoked only half a cigarette? These decisions form inciting incidents. They add layers to the narrative. They imprint on your everyday acts. They add thoughtful relics to your actions. They lift and carry you in their aesthetically enthusiastic arms and parade you until you’ve learnt to act with purpose, as if playing the lead in an important musical.
We are all humans. Flawed humans. We dislike imperfection, but are constantly mending ourselves, outwitting the rest, on the quest to perfection. What a baffling contradiction! But, this is what makes us relevant and approachable. The chemistry we have with ourselves morphs into a version we want ourselves to be, and our best memories come from juxtaposing facts with fiction. Why is this so enigmatic? Why does non-fiction haunt us in ways that fiction doesn’t? Is it the idea of truth being stretched like a rubber band, or the inherent feeling that something that the author is talking about could happen to us? If non-fiction were the truth, is everything we thought of fiction a lie?
How do we navigate this conundrum? We write.
We write everything. We write of things we know, of things we wish we knew, and of things we can create. We find the thread of truth that runs across all of them and pinch it to drag across the fabric. We create a world of truth, encrypted into which lies a story. A fascinating story, a story that transcends worlds, that pulls, that makes the reader care. A story that only you can tell.