Tuesday, August 25, 2009

But I Don't Want to Kill Any Bunnies

In Stein on Writing I've been wading through the section for writing fiction. Sol Stein concentrates tons of valuable information into compact chapters on creating characters, plotting, adding drama to plots, suspense, tension, dialogue, showing instead of telling, point of view, revealing back story through flashbacks, writing with credibility, sensory writing, writing love scenes, & less is more.

His "tidbits" sound so sensible, so obvious. But, as a new writer I can testify that these principles are so difficult to master. Shucks! They're difficult to do at all, much less masterfully.

I just completed the chapter he calls "The Adrenaline Pump: Creating Tension." At the end of the first paragraph I sighed and said, "That's me! No wonder I can't ratchet up the tension in my YA."

The chapter begins like this: "Writers are troublemakers. A psychotherapist tries to relieve stress, strain, and pressure. Writers are not psychotherapists. Their job is to give readers stress, strain, and pressure..."

He continues by saying that a writer's function "is to manipulate the emotions of the audience, and when it comes to moments of tension, to stretch them out as long as possible."

That is the opposite of my natural tendencies. I'm a fixer. I solve problems. I take care of people. I find solutions. I did that as a teacher. I did that as a school principal. And as a wife and mother. Even as a daughter I take care of my mother and solve problems for her. Creating tension and stress for people is contrary not only to my personality, but to my life's mission!

But, to write great fiction--publishable, sellable fiction--I must drag my MC through the wringers again and again. I must grab my reader by the throat and pull her kicking and screaming through the same slow agony I put my MC through, according to Sol Stein.

And what really bothers me is that I know he's right. I know that, as a reader, I will lay aside any fiction book somewhere in the third chapter if the MC hasn't grabbed my heart and dragged it through some tragedy or mayhem. I have to experience a state of perpetual bated breath to invest hours of my time in a novel. Otherwise I'll spend my time on something more important to me.

A casual conversation with my daughter about a book I gave her for Mother's Day confirmed it. Her comment went something like, "I've never read a book where so many tragedies happened to one family! One after the other! At the end of every chapter something terrible was about to happen. I just HAD to keep reading to find out how it would turn out. Now, I can hardly wait for the next book in the series!"

Dilemma. Learn to write tension and maintain suspense or power down my computer.

Even in non-fiction if I don't grab my reader's attention and entertain him all the way through my discourse on 1000 uses for whale blubber I can forget being a published, selling author.

Can I, the person who has spent most of her life helping other people, taking care of their needs and solving their problems, throw a few MC's into the eye of a storm and make them endure prolonged suffering?

I LOVE writing. I can't NOT write. But, I must say, that writing for publication isn't nearly as much "fun" as I imagined it would be. And it isn't as "ego-stroking" as I thought, either. Oh no! Ego-disemboweling is more like it! The road to publication will definitely bring a sincere person to her knees, I think.

So, there it is.

Hurt those bunnies. Break a few hearts. Kill a couple of heroines. Crash a few planes or trains. Don't solve problems. Drag them out. Leave an MC hanging from the edge of a cliff by his finger nails until he has exhausted all possible means of escape. Then...

Make that MC find a solution and rescue himself at the last possible moment. Or, hang up any hopes of ever seeing my name on the spine of a book.

It's decision time.


Cindyb said...

Jean, I am in the same boat. That's one reason I stick to picture books-the tradedies don't have to be so tragic. I can handle bumps and bruises, but not blood and guts!

Carol said...

great blog post, Jean! THis one sounded like an article in WD. You might think about sending it to a writer's magazine. I can see it in ByLine or perhaps the Bulletin. Or try it in WD- why not? You just want to make sure that it's OK that it was first published on your blog. Great writing and right on sentiment. Hit home.

Cheryl Barker said...

Jean, I haven't tried writing fiction yet. Not sure if I could handle hurting the bunnies either :) Good luck :)

By the way, "disemboweling" -- you said it...

wordwranglernc said...

I told ya. :) you know you've got to knock off some of your characters...and you know what I'm talking about!

love you!