owl in winter

owl in winter

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Thought You Would Write Nice Stories...

Maybe I should have characterized this post as "Character Definition" or, more to the point, "Don't be Afraid of Your Characters." No matter. You will understand what I mean as you read this.

Here's the deal.

A few years ago, when I first revealed to my parents my intentions of becoming a published author, my mother said, "I thought you would write childrens' stories. I mean, I thought you were writing childrens' stories."

What? Had I ever given that impression?

I must have looked confused because, then she revised her theme to say, "I thought you were writing nice stories."

Nice stories?

I may have looked more confused at that point.

I asked her what she meant by nice stories. "Oh, you know, no cursing. No dirty stuff, nobody doing bad things, you know, nice stories. I like the movie, 'Sarah, Great and Tall,' you know, a story like that."

Uh hunh. Nice stories. I have never seen "Sarah, Great and Tall." Maybe I should. Maybe I would understand more if I did see it. But, I haven't and probably won't. Sounds a little, shall I say, pedestrian, to me? Well, you know, I understand my mother is 75 years old and so...gotta give a little leeway. HOWEVER.

Speaking about writing now. I said all that to say this. Don't be afraid of your characters.

Think about it. Your characters are as real as you are. You were born someplace. Your parents came from somewhere, whether it was from Europe or from across the road. Maybe you nearly died at birth. Maybe you were so huge at birth, your mother died. Maybe your parents were of a particular religion or creed with all its constraints and/or joys, and traditions. Maybe you went to parochial school and a nun didn't like you and showed it and it affected you later in some awful way. Maybe you went to public school, where you had your first crush. Think about this. Maybe your parents got a divorce. Why? Maybe your father was abusive. Maybe your mother was timid. Why was your father abusive? What made your mother timid? Were your parents uneducated? Is that why they talked like that or believed the things they believed? Why? Maybe you moved around a lot and never made a connection anywhere. Maybe you yearned for more out of life and never got it. Maybe you yearned for more and it was the catalyst to make you what you are today. One thing that has shown up in my stories time after time, is diversity. I grew up with color. I am acquainted with different types of sexual orientation. These things do not frighten me; they shouldn't frighten you in your writing either.

Pull it all in, folks. Life is about conflict. Without conflict you have no story. If all your characters are nice, if they only behave nicely, if only nice things come about, what is your story? Sorry but snoozeville here and probably everywhere else as well.

Let your characters be human; allow them that. They will get up and move and they won't always move the way you expect or plan or even want. They do have minds of their own, after all. They have backstory, they have had a life somewhere, one that you may not necessarily like or approve of, but one that adds to the layers of your story. Don't be afraid to go there and, take it all the way.

Cardinal rule right here. Be honest. Never, ever lie to your readers. This is paramount. Maybe this is why I have a problem with so-called "Christian Fiction." I know there is a big market for this genre right now and that is fine but, I just have to say my piece and let it go. Never, ever pretend that your characters are so noble that they can never say a bad word or behave in a less than noble way. Would not happen in real life, don't put your characters through it. Make them real. Make your people believable. If you can do that, you can produce a good story. A believable story.
And, seriously, that is what your readers want. They want something they can hold onto, something to identify with, to say, "yeah, I felt that way once," or, "that happened to me," or maybe to someone they knew but at any rate, they want to identify, to relate. They want to be able to absorb your writing, take it in by osmosis. Your readers want REAL.

Okay, go to the page and write. Tell the truth. Don't be afraid. Be real. Ready, get set, go!

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