"As any Buddhist will tell you, you cannot exist as a human being on this planet for thirty seconds without desiring something."
That quote is from Where You Dream, a new book on the process of writing fiction by Robert Olen Butler, edited and with an introduction by Janet Burroway.
Butler, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, teaches writing at Florida State University. His new book is an outstanding guide to writing fiction, especially for writers who fear their stories may come too much from their heads and not enough from their hearts.
It's Butler's belief that the most compelling stories come only when you're able to write from that place where you dream--your unconscious.
And that to write from that place requires not thinking but feeling--a deep emotional understanding of your character's moment to moment sensory experience.
Feeling, feeling, feeling--that's the key, according to Butler, to dropping into the unconscious zone.
But a story is more than a dream, more than a reproduction of sensory experience. Butler suggests that it's the embodiment of desire.
And the most common problem that he sees in stories--both unpublished and published--is this lack of desire.
He calls this problem in stories the "deficit of desire" and suggests that, basically, without desire, without a character's deep yearning, there is no story.
Here's Butler in his own words:
"We yearn. We are the yearning creatures of this planet. There are superficial yearnings, and there are truly deep ones always pulsing beneath, but every second we yearn for something. And fiction, inescapably, is the art form of human yearning." (page 40.)
"Yearning is always part of fictional character. In fact, one way to understand plot is that it represents the dynamics of desire. It's the dynamics of desire that is the heart of narrative and plot." (p. 40)
Butler devotes a full chapter to yearning.
But the notion of yearning flows through the entire book since, in Butler's view, yearning is the core around which a story's details are built, the driving force of the story's metaphors and language, not just the character's actions.
Butler's one of the best writing teachers around, and he's had the good fortune to have another amazing writing teacher, Janet Burroway (whose Writing Fiction is a classic text), help him shape his lectures into this book.
With it, you can attend his classes without ever leaving home.
Take a look and let us know what you think.