Friday, October 29, 2004

Metamorphosis of the Mundane to the Mythical

Anyone can write about a spectacular event. That's why certain subject matter eventually become cliche or worse, boring. One just needs to look a few years back to see an example of this. The tragedy of 9/11 is perhaps one of the most overused material in the past two years (no offense to those affected by the tragedy or those who wrote about it). The mark of a skilled writer is when he or she can transform something so common, so ordinary that it is something many people often overlook, into an interesting read.

When writing such a piece, one actually has a treasure trove that merely needs to be dug up. Your advantage as a writer is the fact that you're constantly exposed to it, making you familiar with the subject matter. There are two beliefs when it comes to writing and one of them is "write what you know". You not only have your own experience but other people's experiences to draw upon when writing about a mundane object, person, place, or event. Your other advantage is that readers are too acquainted with the subject matter that they fall prey to the disease of familiarity--it has lost its mystique due to the fact that they are constantly exposed to it. Your job as a writer is to rekindle that mystique and make it as memorable as the first time you cried yourself to sleep, the first time you humiliated yourself in public, or even the first thing you bought when you got your first paycheck.

But in this endeavor, we must also remember the basics of writing. While we may want to mystify our subject matter, it must at the same time remain familiar to the reader. One mistake we could easily fall prey to would be to exoticize the object so much so that it is totally unrecognizable to the reader. There's a difference, for example, from choosing the right words and jargon. We might also be tempted to delve too much into the technical side of our subject matter that readers quickly lose interest. Or we could simply be using the wrong tone. Just because we want to add glamour does not mean we transform our subject matter into something totally alien. In the end, we must remember that our subject matter has character, and the subject matter must retain that character when we write our piece.

Yes, our subject matter has character. Character is what makes it distinct and unique, setting it apart from the rest. Character is what catches the reader's attention and makes the piece an interesting read. Without character, we have nothing. When we write, we must always keep in mind the reasons for writing and why we chose that particular subject. What is our agenda? What makes it special? What is its history, and how does it affect the present? We must have focus and not waste the reader's time by showing off our esoteric knowledge of the subject matter. That is not the point of writing. It's never about you. It's always about the subject. And then and only then does the subject inform your reader who you are.