Sunday, June 6, 2010
A Dog's Ghost
One big challenge about ghostwriting is that you must become someone else. I am invited into another person’s head, and allowed to poke around. I mine the data and the passion I find there, and bring it to the surface so I can play with it. This isn’t easy. Another person’s brain doesn’t work just like mine. In order to find the information and the emotion that I need to write like them, first I have to think like them. Actually, this is impossible.
So have I figured out how to do the impossible? No, I’ve just learned to pretend really, really well. I pretend to think like you. If I pretend hard enough, something weird happens to my brain and I do think like you – at least while I’m writing your book.
Actors do this when they portray a real-life person. Think of Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. He was more like Ray Charles than Ray Charles was. Through the mysterious alchemy of art, for the duration of making that movie, Jamie Foxx probably thought like Ray Charles. That’s what ghostwriters do too. They’re just not in front of a camera when they do it.
Ghostwriters are even luckier than actors. When I ghostwrite, I am not constrained by my gender, my age, my ethnicity or my race. Maybe not even by my species.
I truly understood the dynamic of pretending when I wrote a book for a dog. In a dog’s voice. It was about the dog’s visits to the dog park, and the experiences she had there. It’s called Dog Park Diary: the social round of Goody Beagle – www.dogparkdiary.net.
All my interpersonal skills were no use in writing this book. I had to pretend to be a dog, and not just any dog, this particular dog. Dogs are as individual as people. There are dogs who have phobias about vacuum cleaners, and dogs who like to sleep under the covers, and dogs who believe that squirrels should be wiped off the face of the earth. There are dogs who turn up their noses at expensive kibble in favor of three-day-old garbage, and dogs who will learn how to roll over or shake hands. To some dogs, Frisbees are the reason for living. For other dogs, the most fun in the world is to force others to go somewhere, and nip their heels if they don’t. For still others, any day they don’t go swimming is an evil day indeed.
However, there are some things about being a dog that are common to all dogs. For one thing, being alone is the worst fate that can befall them. But the biggest thing that matters to a dog’s ghostwriter is that dogs don’t think in pictures or words, like we do. They think in smells.
How to think in smells is impossible to explain fully in an article made out of words. But thinking in smells is how I was able to write in a dog’s voice. I pretended that smell was everything to me. I went around sniffing the ordinary things in my house and my yard – the dishwasher has a smell, the dandelions have a smell, the mailbox has a smell. Even if I couldn’t actually smell them, I pretended that I could. Guess what? When I wrote the story, the correct doggy words drifted up to my brain from my pitiful olfactory bulb (pitiful in comparison with a dog), and I got close to what mattered to that dog. I know this is true, because she told me so.
And now writing for people is a piece of cake.