On Writing as Theft

Here is an interesting and thought provoking post by EA Durden: Writing as Theft.

You get immersed in this thievery; you prowl and you pick, and if you’re really graceful, and lucky, you disappear. You are like Michael Ondaatje’s thief, who sneaks his way through in the Skin of a Lion and The English Patient. In the first, he is caught, imprisoned, and assigned work detail, forced to paint the jail’s roof the same color blue as the sky. After hours of tedious, dangerous work, he comes to a realization: if he, too, is painted blue, the guards will not see him. Ondaatje writes:

And that was how he escaped … Buck and Patrick painted him, covering his hands and boots and hair with blue. They daubed his clothes and then, laying a strip of handkerchief over his eyes, painted his face blue, so he was gone — to the guards who looked up and saw nothing there.

Like the thief Caravaggio, we fiction writers must disguise ourselves; we must suit ourselves with stolen goods, in order to vanish into the lives of the characters we create. We do this not for the stereotypical reasons—because writers are screwy, or mentally ill—but because we seek a truth that can only be found through individual stories. And the more we disappear, the more of our story’s “blue” we soak ourselves in, the more likely we are to escape the cliché, the expected, and arrive at the sort of wild, unvarnished truths that really make up our world.

It’s a short and poetically written post. If you have a moment, you should click through and read the whole thing.

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