Friday, March 1, 2013

Serving the Story

As you've probably heard, legendary pianist Van Cliburn died a few days ago. It was all over NPR (which I listen to roughly 10 hours a day because I am a stay-at-home mom and NPR is my only link to anything that is happening in the outside world) so I had the opportunity to hear multiple interviews with and about Mr. Cliburn, and quite a few of his performances. I freely admit to not knowing dick about classical music, but his work was amazing to listen to; even I, a complete Philistine, could hear the passion and love in his playing.

One thing that came in an interview was very interesting. A friend of Mr. Cliburn's said that he always described himself as a servant of the music.

I love this sentiment. I've posted here before about my feelings on writing: that I am not a god controlling the actions of my characters and the events of the story, but a chronicler who is merely describing something that occurred. This is a useful philosophy for me, seeing as pretty terrible things happen to a number of my characters. Believing that these things would have happened whether I wrote them down or not neutralizes any guilt I may have felt about it (which other authors have described having- I have never felt bad for anything I've written, no matter how awful).

Mr. Cliburn believed he was a servant whose job was to interpret the music in a way that would bring out its full glory. Not only was he serving the music, but also the listeners.

I think this idea can be applied to any art: visual art, dance, theater, music and writing. My job, as an author, is to tell you, the reader, a story in such a way that you understand what happened and why it's so important. My job is to make you think and feel. If I do my job right, you'll remember the story long after it's over.

As a writer, you serve your story. Not the other way around.

In closing, here's a video of Mr. Cliburn playing Rachmaninov (which I hear is devilishly difficult) at the tender age of 23, in 1958.

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