Monday, February 25, 2013

Obsession, cravings, and other things that come out in our writing

I was talking (via email) to a friend the other day, who made an off-hand comment about craving something salty, like chips.

When I replied back, I told her about a random grocery-store-craving I had last week, y'know, when you see something, and suddenly you have to have it.

In my case, it was an interesting cheese in the deli... Guinness marbled aged cheddar. Sounds freaking awesome, right? Well, it was, especially with a baguette, slices of green apple, red wine, and a couple of other accompanying cheeses.

I don't eat a lot of dairy, and (since my liver doesn't break stuff down properly) I don't eat a lot of refined carbs, like bread & pasta. Even as I'm trying to think back... the last time I ate pasta would probably have been in October or November... maybe even earlier. But, just like the bread/cheese craving, occasionally the thought of amazing pasta just clamps down in the front of my brain and won't let go.

Maybe it's pure rationalization, but I figure that, if you have a strong craving, your body is deficient in something... in my case, probably calcium.

It's not something that's easy to admit, but I'm pretty sure I have a mildly obsessive personality. Or maybe not so mild. Like, if I bump one elbow, I twist and bump the other without thinking so the sides are 'equal'. As a kid, I couldn't step on cracks or shadows without feeling like I had committed some kind of horrible sin. With food, I often have no problem eating the same thing for 5 or 6 meals in a row (including breakfast), and then I don't want to eat it again for months (or years).

Apparently I used to be even more extreme when I was young... like, refusing to eat all meat for almost a year, or if one type of food was touching another type, I wouldn't eat at all (my parents were smart and bought those fondue-plates with dividers, but that didn't solve 'lasagna' or other mixed foods). I hung onto my 'no onions, bell peppers or mushrooms' phase until I was 23. Even if they were chopped up really small in a sauce, I'd sit there and pick them all out. Clams in clam chowder, same thing.

Oh, and I still don't eat bell peppers :) It's a texture-thing.

My very first post was about obsession, and I'm sure, if I look through my archives, I'd find a lot more.

Anyone who has ever read even the shortest piece of my writing can tell you my characters are all about their obsessions. Some are obsessed with a perfect love, some with memories/grief, with a dead sibling, or feelings they don't yet understand.

"Simon's Oath" is all about a brother obsessed with protecting his younger brother. "Brake Fluid" is about a teenager obsessed with figuring out the rules of give and take between people. My newest story, about Jay & Kell, is about someone obsessed with breaking down/compartmentalizing other people into manageable tidbits. Sure, he's all about 'painting the play of light across her damaged skin', but at the heart of it, he's trying to take hold of the one piece he can understand, and he's ready to discard the rest. And Kell isn't all that different.

In fact, the most normal, un-obsessed character I've written was for Project #5 (Afraid of the Dark), which might be why that story kinda sputtered out. Sure, Sikka really wanted to find her sister... but that was it. It wasn't enough. There wasn't an obsessive, all-consuming pull like in "Simon's Oath". Even Issa... sure, she killed a god to keep her and her sister together... but there should be more. There needed to be more.

I've been told, enough times that I feel comfortable typing the words here, that I write emotion well, and that my characters are always deep and complex.

I don't know if I would describe it that way. Maybe it's simply that I understand obsession so well that I can write it in any number of different forms. And obsession, of any kind, is intense.

Every person, whether they admit to it or not, has things they are passionate about, that they crave or obsess over. I had a friend who would get twitchy if he didn't swim everyday. Another friend carefully applies her makeup until it's perfect, even if it'll make her super late for work. Someone else I know collects Tinkerbell Christmas ornaments (yeah, really), and another picks up a packet of matches wherever he goes. Even people who change jobs every other year, that's a kind of obsession that drives them. Many people are obsessed with keeping up a particular "image" of themselves, some by philosophical notions, like right/wrong, or finding meaning in what seems to be random chaos.

Obsession is another way of looking at that all-too-familiar writing question:

What's the most important thing to your character/what do they stand to lose?

And that's what every story of mine begins with. Not necessarily a problem, but an obsession. Something that matters so strongly to that character that it's going to leach out into everything they do, ever decision they make, and everything they care about. In every scene, no matter what's going on, that obsession is there in the background, influencing every thought, reaction, and line of dialogue.

It's never just something they like, or are interested in. It's strong enough to permeate every aspect of their life. If removed, it would leave an un-fillable void, both in the character, and the story, but if "healed"...the character would be forever changed.

Obsession is all about the border of extremes: destruction or redemption.

...and that's probably why I don't write a lot of romance/love, because in YA, it's usually all about first-love, or puppy-love, neither of which are all-consuming and destructive enough to be labelled "obsession". And where's the fun in that?

What do you guys think? Can you categorize your characters by their obsessions? Have you ever even thought of your characters interests/passions in those terms? What IS the most important thing to your MC, and how deeply does it radiate throughout the story?


  1. First off, cheese is amazing, so I can't blame you for craving it in any regard. =)

    I have thought of my characters motivations by way of obsession, although I don't think I've actually termed it that way. Still, in dramatic writing that is the term we should you--something overblown, exaggerated, and beyond the norm. You definitely got my brain rolling. =)

    1. Yeah! Another cheese lover! ...I can't eat blue cheese though... or any of the mouldy ones. I find the taste just too overpowering.

      Heh, glad I got your brain rolling :)

  2. I had a craving for red velvet cake. I don't think I was deficient in red velvet cake.

    1. Well, red velvet is made with cocoa, and chocolate give you... what is it... seratonin? Or something?

      And the icing is a butter icing, which means dairy...

      C'mon, I'm sure if you analyze the ingredient list, I'm sure this can be rationalized somehow ;)

  3. There are a lot of foods that I don't eat: seafood/shellfish, onions, peppers, most green vegetables, most forms of potatoes, and probably a few more that I can't think of off the top of my head.

    1. Always? Or at this point in your life? Is it a taste thing, a texture thing? Or something else?

    2. I used to eat salmon, but other than that always. I'm only fifteen. Most of it is a consistency thing. Some of it's taste, like with curry (which I failed to mention, along with most Asian food). Specifically, mashed potatoes make me gag before I can get it to my mouth and even then I can't swallow more than a pea-sized bit at a time (so I haven't eaten them in a few years). Shrimp makes me either vomit or become extremely ill.

    3. Heh, I totally get that :) Everything I don't eat is because of texture... except for cucumber... HATE the taste of that, and I can pick it up, even when it's blended into other things.

      Hmmm, with the potatoes & shrimp... depending how they are prepared, the texture will change drastically. Like, potatoes that are whipped/mashed until they are one consistent texture... I agree! It's like paste how they stick in the throat, but if they are lightly mashed, so there are still big chunks, I'm good with that :)

  4. i think we all have a sort of obsessive quality, whether we want to admit it or not. your bumping each elbow reminds me of my mother-in-law who is ocd (my sis-in-law has full blown ocd) and once burned the side of her forehead with a curler and then burned the other side to make it even. I'm not quite to there when it comes to my obsessions, but just letting you know you're not alone.

    1. Wow! Okay, I'm not so bad that I would burn myself intentionally...

      But glad to hear I'm not alone ;)

  5. I am definitely an obsessive personality. I agree about the peppers but I love clams. Very hard to find. I get twitchy if I don’t write, even some editing helps. The most important thing to my characters (don’t barf) is to find someone that they can love and who loves them back unconditionally. And to keep that person, once found, at whatever cost. No, I don’t write romances as such. But thinking about it, when you phrase the questions like that, this is true of all my characters right from when I started to develop personalities. My first two were very sick individuals. But that is what they yearned for. By a fluke I wrote a happy ending for them. But not the ending I intended. As usual thank you for your post.

    1. I can't stand the texture of clams... so rubbery! If they're minced, I'm okay... but whole? Yuck!

      Heh, well, sounds like if romance is the most important thing to your characters, then they sort of are love stories :) Nothing wrong with that!

      It's always interesting when endings go awry... which is why I love being a pantser!


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