WARNING – if you are easily offended, skip the first paragraph of this blog. You have been warned.
I’m starting with joke. A bad joke. A really horrible disgusting joke, so if you didn’t think the warning was serious, this is your last chance to bail out or be upset. How many dead babies does it take to paint a house? Answer: Depends on how hard you throw ’em. Bwahahah!
Okay – what was the point of that? Well, for one, yes – I thought it was funny. Two, it’s the heart of my point today. Sometimes, you have to push beyond what’s comfortable to make your point. It isn’t the easy stuff that makes writing good, it’s the uncomfortable, awkward, painful, bordering-on-obscene stuff that gets the readers to react the way you want. This is the idea of dancing with crazy, but it’s more than that. It’s being willing to invite crazy to the prom, buying it a corsage, and paying for dinner, too.
I’ve discovered in my own recent writing that I’ve been holding back. I have been afraid to dig around in those dark parts of my psyche that are required for the two stories I’ve been working on. Then late one night, I had an epiphany: I’ve been letting the story push me around, bullying me into playing it safe, and instead I need to be pushing the story. It’s time for me to fight back. It was distressing at first: safe is comfortable, not scary. Safe doesn’t bring up dark thoughts, it doesn’t make you squirm as you write. However, it also won’t make your reader squirm, and in these two novels, that’s exactly what I need – I need my readers to feel uncomfortable, to squirm, to be dislodged from their cozy chairs and feel as if some of the slime from this story is dripping into their laps.
So I’ve become a bully writer. I’m pushing. I’m shoving. I’m intimidating my stories into the shape they need to have. It is strangely liberating. Here’s an example: I’m working on the revisions for my dystopic YA novel called “The Afterward” about a second futuristic civil war in America. I realized as I worked through the early chapters that this post-American environment is pretty tame on the overall, and so I have taken away the safety. Things are darker, the survivors left in this city are more vicious, supplies are fewer, and the stakes are higher.
In the story I’m collaborating on with my friend Jared Anderson, my character is going through some horrifying experiences at the hands of his character. But even here, I’ve held back. When I get to the revisions on this one, and on the remaining chapters going forward, there will be a much more raw, much more aggressive approach to my character and her circumstances. She is undergoing a transformation of the most brutal kind, and I’ve tried to keep her innocent, sweet even. She is being jerked backwards through a knothole, and I’ve been trying to get her through it without a scratch. That’s just unreasonable. She is scarred, scraped, damaged, and different. She is going to have to start behaving differently or no one is going to believe this girl has suffered.
It’s an empowering feeling, and I’m delighted that I found my way to it. Like I said, not every story requires this guerrilla approach, but right now – it’s what I need, what my stories need, and I’m enjoying the sense of mastery it gives me. If I could muster a descent growl, I would! GRRR. Pushing boundaries is always necessary for good writing – even if not to this extreme. I lost sight of that temporarily, but I’ve gotten back on track now.
Watch out readers. Maybe I should start all my books with a warning . . .