“I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set it free.”

what he was aiming for

The Vision. What he was aiming for…

Michelangelo believed that he could see his subject in the material that he’d use to sculpt. Taking his philosophy as creative people we might envision our art through the medium we work with. With regards to writing – and to some extent, the world building of many disciplines – the story might be contained in its themes, characters and ideas, but deeper still, in the very words we use to “sculpt” them. The selection of these would dictate what we can create with them.

When one begins to write, the creator must have that same vision that Michelangelo had for his statues – to see the story beyond the words they are about to use. The writer takes their themes, characters, action – their ideas – and begins to sculpt. But inevitably there is a time when the material, whether it be word or stone, leads to something that the writer/sculptor didn’t see. A fracture hidden deep in the marble, a character suddenly confronting a decision that needed to be made though wouldn’t make sense. The work ends up in a form the creator didn’t intend to shape.

What then? What does the creator do when their creation starts walking away from their vision of it?

Well, I would imagine that a good one will try to dodge the bullet and guide everything back toward their original goal, sweeping the hiccups masterfully back into the work.  The occurrence of these issues is usually circumvented during planning and preparation. An artist does their workup sketches, figuring out the processes and potential difficulties ahead and knowing, at least, where to dodge when the bullet comes. Writing is no different in my opinion, but going deeper than this level we get to the idea of the work being what it should be. When a story is written, or a painting done, it becomes what it is.

I know that sounds rather circular, perhaps obvious. Of course it is what it is, it is what it is! But is that what you intended it to be, or was it the “spirit” of the art showing through. The “angel” in Michelangelo’s marble. I’m not familiar with the full circumstances of that quotation, but I wonder if Michelangelo intended for his creation to be an angel, or was the art (or the marble) insisting it be created. I’m not suggesting this on some strange fantastical level where the “art” was a living thing that was freed, rather than constructed or shaped, merely that some projects form their own identities as they are worked on.

Stories are no different. Given a specific topic, with this and that theme, such and such characters, the action will be suggested, the plot unfolds and the story is written. Given that the creator is often not cognizant of all the details of their work, it cannot be created to a meticulous level – the writer cannot possibly plan every word before writing it, or the artist cannot plan every brushstroke, or chisel strike and so on.  And if this is true, then the interplay of creator and medium takes over.


And here is the unfortunate product of his toiling.

I’m often struck by the thought of stories that “miss their mark.”  The story that could have been that much better if this had happened instead of that, or why a certain character did x rather than y, which might seem more appropriate. It’s easy to throw the idea away as creator not knowing what they were doing, but as is so often the case with art, the work shows differently to each viewer. An artistic choice might have been made knowing it would have this effect, or demonstrate a personality quirk or more likely, the artist isn’t looking at the work in the same way the viewer is, and consequently not understanding it on the same (or correct) level.

Is the flawed creation flawed because the viewer saw a goddess in the marble, while the creator saw an angel?  Or because the creators idea of an angel is a goddess to the viewer? Similar, but markedly different.

So, back to story. Some stories are always going to be of a certain character. They are tailored to a specific idea and ideally, each creative process during its development needs to keep that idea (and theme, characters, etc) in mind in focus. If it follows a general thought process, it WILL grow into something else. When a work becomes complex, it becomes harder to manage, obviously, and is more likely to grow on its own. Other stories will emerge from the tangle.

The author will pick their themes, characters, action and the others carefully and tailor them to express their art. Ideally. Sometimes they’ll get a brick with a toad inside and say to themselves, “What the fuck am I going to do with that?”

Well, I would imagine that a good one will try to dodge the bullet and guide everything back toward their original goal, sweeping the hiccups masterfully back into the work…Though the complete lack of any marble toads by Michelangelo suggests a higher level of mastery at work.