“My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life. I try to work every day, because you have no refuge but writing. When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing.”
I found the above quote this week and knew it was the missing piece to a post I wrote a few years ago on emotional autobiography;
“Tennessee Williams observed, even works of demonstrable fiction or fantasy remain emotionally autobiographical.”
David Bayles & Ted Orland
Art & Fear
“Principle 1: Whenever writers sit down before blank paper or glowing green (or amber) phosphor, their personal story is all they can write.”
The Whole Picture
In Richard Walter’s book The Whole Picture he has a section called “Identity: The Only Choice” where he makes this profound statement:
“We spend much of our lives trying to reconcile these two halves of our spirit and soul—call it identity—as we struggle to figure out just what and who it is we genuinely are. The reason we go to the movies is precisely to explore these perpetually unanswerable questions regarding our identity. It’s the same reason we go to church, temple, mosque, ashram or meetinghouse: we seek to answers to the wonderful and dreadful puzzle of our existence.”
Look at the movies that you and your friends watch over and over again and ask how much identity plays a part of liking the movie. Beloved movies that I find fit this category well are The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Pretty Women, Erin Brockovich, Braveheart, Rocky, Titanic, Dead Poets Society, The Matrix, An Officer and a Gentleman. On the Waterfront, Good Will Hunting, Thema and Louise, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles (Pixar, Pixar, Pixar) and, of course, Field of Dreams. (Just to name a few.)
“If we look at some of the Academy Award winners of the 80s and 90s, we can see an identity theme shimmering through many philosophical, theological, and/or psychological ideas.
And certainly the more recent Academy winning best film, The King’s Speech, is heavy on identity. On one level you could identify if you were a stutter, but other levels of identity for audiences are if you have any physical trait that is holding you back from performing your best in life. Some could identify being the parent of a child with a handicap. Others could identify with being a gifted teacher whose teaching may be effective, but rather unorthodox and not respected by those in power.
There is no doubt that the screenwriter of The King’s Speech identified first hand with the material he was writing. And as we learn from now Oscar-winner David Siedler, sometimes writers aren’t always aware at first the themes which they evoke.
“I wanted to write something about my hero George VI who had given me hope as a kid, because my parents had said, ‘listen to him, he stuttered far worse than you and yet he can give these stirring, magnificent wartime speeches that rally the world.’ I didn’t see it, the fact that I was actually writing about myself. Now, with a bit more maturity, now I can see it very clearly that I was writing my story through the King.”
Siedler wrote an emotional autobiography. So when in The King’s Speech when King George VI says, “I have a right to be heard. I have a voice,” you know this is the former stutter Sielder’s speaking as well. And how many in the audience connect with that emotionally as well?
Richard Walter’s adds, “More than a quarter of a century of professional writing and decades spent teaching have convinced me that writers’ own personal stories are all they should write.” Walter’s former student and graduate in the MFA program at UCLA, Alexander Payne, did okay writing an emotional autobiography called Sideways for which he won an Oscar (with Jim Taylor) in 2005.
I like the phrase “Emotional Autobiography” because it describes what writers do when they tap into identity themes.
“Emotional autobiography is what is going to bring your story to life, and what will make your reader connect with your characters. I bring this idea back to Tim O’Brien’s brilliant The Things They Carried. I’ve never been a soldier, but I intrinsically identify with all of the emotions those characters are feeling. The author’s emotional autobiography replaces factual accuracy and becomes my own emotional history. And that is what we should all strive for when we take the seeds of our own experiences and transfer the spirit of what is meaningful from our lives to the page.”
Writer and Assistant Professor at The University of Akron
Embracing Emotional Autobiography Over Factual Representation in Fiction
40 Days of Emotions
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Can You Identify?
Emotional Autobiography (“On the Waterfront”)
E.T. & Emotional Autobiography
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Scott W. Smith
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