The Genre Dancer (Part 1) & The Muse as a Person (Part 2)
Horror n An intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust.
Fiction n Prose literature, esp. Short stories and novels, about imaginary people and events.
A genre that I don’t, admittedly, know much about. I’ve devoured books by Thomas Harris and I’ve read my fair share of Stephen King and am more than familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Yet when it comes to writing effective horror (or incorporating it in my stories) I’m utterly clueless as to what goes where and how to do it. Thankfully then, it isn’t my knowledge of Horror Fiction that’s important here, and I’m not going to bore you with the dreadful mishaps of a genre hopper. What’s important is what Horror Fiction has in common with the other types of fiction. Everything from Romance to Sci-Fi to Historical to Thriller can be related back to Horror through one, very elusive and very commanding idea the Muse. I talked about the Muse in last week’s post (below this one) and yet, I’ve been left feeling incomplete.
There is only so much one can cover in 1000 words about the driving force of one’s literary adventures (or, as the case may be, misadventures). The Muse, you see, is as genre hopping as the writer themselves. In each and every genre, at one time or another, the Muse of horror has danced across the writer’s keyboard or has taken control of their pen. Horror fiction (in all of its degrees of mastery and insolence), it can be said, has touched and will invariably touch each genre again. This is because, where the Muse dances, one must follow. Wether it happens to be the pages of Harry Potter, or the tales of Lord Of The Rings, or the pages of Oscar Wilde, the Muse has danced for horror and horror has been written.
She is a commanding creature, our Muse, and yet, without her, we would be utterly lost. A feeble concession in the eyes of the one thing that will pick up your failing novel manuscript with a jolt from another genre. Dipping her toes into romance or a seductive and bloodied finger into the realm of the thriller, its her natural genre hopping that allows us, writers, to shift almost seamlessly from one to the other. Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club, alongside Orwell’s 1984 does this very thing. The former, brings horror into what would otherwise be flat and motionless and the latter, romance into what could have been the solo struggle of one man. In each of these, the pickings from other genres have elevated the works (this is true for many other stories) allowing them greater resonance with the reader.
Genre then, is not static. As useful as it is for organizing a bookstore and choosing a type of book, writers and our Muses will simply not allow it to be any more than a filing system for readers. Not of bigotry or out of malice (though I’m sure those feelings exist for the ‘hipsters’ amongst us) but simply because we cannot. A Historical Fiction for example; is a story set in the past, usually, based around actual events or people. A story such as this is inevitably going to involve elements of a different genre, it cannot exist without them. Nobody wants to read about a man and woman who drank tea for a day on the coronation of Queen Victoria. Unless, this cup of tea happens to be laced with poison, by an unknown third party, somebody is horribly mutilated and then someone, close to the plot or to the leads, falls deeply and madly in love. All of a sudden, you have a rather compelling cup of tea on your hands, and Historical Fiction, as a genre, has provided you only with a setting and perhaps a character or two.
Infusing genres is important and yet, it may not even be something that is actively thought out by the writer themselves. Here, the Muse returns. The love of our lives, not content with the genres we adore, is taking our hands and leading us to lands that we may be unfamiliar with. It is true to say I’ve never read a romance novel, it is untrue to say I’ve never written romance. Following her guidance (and I feel I should note, though traditionally a metaphor for a woman, the Muse, if it so desires, transcends gender orientation. In my case, as you may have noticed, the Muse is a woman.) I’ve dabbled, like many writers before me and many writers alongside me, in genres that I know nothing of. In their own ways, the elements relentlessly plundered from other genres, have allowed a story grow, have defeated the menace that is writer’s block and have also taken characters that were utterly useless and turned them into something wonderful.
It is the case that our Muses may be far more adventurous than ourselves and for this we owe them a debt we can never repay. Without being dragged, often screaming and flailing wildly, into other genres, our writing would be flat, hardly readable and certainly not worth remembering. There is a great deal to be said for relinquishing creative control to what is often a metaphor. However, there are times where the Muse is in fact a person, a woman, a man, a child, whose feelings and actions provide the greater inspiration.
As a person, the Muse becomes a difficult thing to handle. There are many great tales of men compelled to write their best works by the thought of or their relationship to a woman. The well worn, but most notable, are of course, Alice and Beatrice. The great women behind Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and The Divine Comedy. For Carroll and Dante, their Muses were a great source of pleasure and a great source of pain. Out of it, however, we have works that have lasted centuries and, permitting the world isn’t destroyed or doesn’t abruptly end, will continue on for many more centuries.
Along with the great tales, however, comes a level of relinquishing creative control unlike the metaphoric Muse. Both Carroll and Dante gave their lives to their Muses, and while they served them well, the Muse as a person is perhaps far more moody than the Muse as a metaphor. As writers, besotted, as writers infatuated, we hang onto their every word as though it were our last breath. When they are down, our writing takes a turn to the blackest parts of our relationships. Psycho analysis through characters and ideas that represent far more than we’re willing to admit. Writers bare their souls to the world, we’re entertainment, and in that way we entertain. But baring one’s soul to a globe of strangers is infinitely easier than baring it to the Muse.
Each of the ideas of a story is a layer, beneath it, another layer, and beneath that, the core idea. The idea or emotion that we are trying to define and trying to understand is hidden, almost always, in our characters actions or is represented in our environment. In many ways, it provides a difficult paradox. We want to share with you, write for you, and provide non judgmental understanding, while at the same time, working tirelessly to mask exactly what we want to show. Because the Muse as a person, is a person that can be hurt, insulted, abandoned, loved, betrayed. And our Muses are important to us.
There is a level of selfishness that comes with the territory of a ‘human muse’ and part of that is keeping them for ourselves. They may inspire us and we may write about them, wether it be good or bad, we still want to keep them, to degrees, to ourselves. Away from the prying words and the insecurities that lead to the endless pages of masking ideas beneath other ideas and away from the plundering of their lives for our next scene or character. We want to love our Muses, as we believe, they love us. And this may be the reason writers are known for their love of drink. When I write about my Muse, as I may be doing right now, you, have no idea who she is, if she exists or wether she’ll read this. I, along with all the writers with ‘human Muses’ know the answers to these questions. And when one writes endlessly about another and that other reads their words, they become self conscious of what they’re writing down, and can even be driven to drink.
Things start to become hidden, kept away from caring eyes, but written about nonetheless. In some respects, its a beautiful deceit, in others, it becomes largely problematic. And that’s the problem with humans, we’re too recognizable. It only takes a moment to recognize the way we look, a manner of speech, a habit all reflected in a character. Whether what’s taken is dispersed amongst many characters, humans will always recognize themselves and the Muse is no exception to this rule. As I mention above, the Muse can lead us into horror and other genres, but even though the Muse may led, the writer may still need inspiration. Naturally, the writer takes it from the one they love, exploits a bad trait, an argument or something they find disagreeable. These aren’t usually calculated attacks against the Muse, but grains of ideas that will evolve and change through the writing process. What we begin with will often remain only in strands by the time we end.
Somethings simply cannot be helped and this, for better or worse, is one those things. The Muse while always being the inspiration for an idea or a growing idea base, will eventually come to recognize themselves in the writing. When the writer’s intent is misunderstood (which it often is by all but the writer) the subject feels attacked or betrayed. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, will lead to a circus of events that, with any luck for them both, will allow them to remain, at the least civil. Because a writer will write regardless of the situation with a ‘human Muse’.
For Muses; writers will write, and they will write about you. They will write the good and they will write the bad. There will come times where they’ll mine you for all the pain you can bring, to persevere through a scene or develop a character. But bear with them, for most times they will be focused only on themselves and the issues they are facing. If you’re a Muse, you are, in some respects, a proxy, the first call for the emotional torrents that the writer will channel through the inspiration you give him. Unlike metaphors, ‘human Muses’ can be patient, selfish, and caring at he drop of a hat and like metaphors, they can be destructive and distant in what feels like a much shorter time. The ‘human Muse’ then, it seems, as far more control than that of the metaphor.