Sunday, June 7, 2009

Going there...

One thing that stood out most to me in the Richard Peck SCBWI Master Class dvd was a comment on writing about rape. He described the all the research he'd done, how deeply he'd dug to accurately depict all his main character experienced. His manuscript was 400 pages long. 

Then he realized his manuscript was so long because he didn't want to write that one scene. He didn't want his MC to be raped. It was easier to research than to write. 

Ya think?

His point was that we have to be willing to let all sorts of things happen to our characters. We have to be willing to go there.

Now, I get that from a writing-an-interesting-story perspective. Conflict=story. (That's why I never, ever liked the fiction in Highlights, by the way. The editors don't want external conflict.) 

But as much as I like a good adventure, I long to protect the people that I love. In a weird, writerly sort of way, that means I want to protect my characters as well. I don't want anything REALLY bad to happen. I don't want to wonder if it's going to turn out okay. Funny as it sounds, there are times when I'm writing a scene and I shy away from some aspect of it. I know that if I go there, the story might not end the way I wish it would. 

Then I got to thinking about some folks in my life:

My sister. She tried to help a friend leave an abusive boyfriend. She watched her friend's murder and the boyfriend's suicide.

My friend. She was in the Bosnian army when she was a young teen. Worked in a war hospital. Lived with genocide, hunger, shellings. 

A child I watch. He's 4 years old and recently had his second open heart surgery. There was no way his parents could explain to him why all those adults kept hurting him.

A girl I taught. She wasn't adopted till she was 9. She also had open heart surgery when she was tiny, but she didn't have a parent there to comfort her. No one.

Now that writerly part of me knows I have your attention. 

And my conscience knows I'd be a b**ch if I mentioned those things just because it might increase blog readership. Truth be told, I already feel slimy.

But one of the things I love about my sister ... my friend ... those children is how they responded when life took them someplace no one should ever have to go. 

My sister would do it all again. She didn't let the trauma of that experience shape her, and she's ferociously protective of women in abusive relationships.

My friend from Bosnia is one of the most open hearted people I know. She has friends who are Serbs. She works to help all sorts of refugees. She regularly tells me how lucky she is.

That little boy has a smile that- I can't describe it, but it's precious. He trusts his mom enough thatwalked with her into a doctor's office, even though in his mind  it might mean surgery all over again.

That girl who knew so little affection as a child- and certainly not during her heart surgery- has been learning how to give and receive love the past few years. She can be so tender with her younger siblings.

So here's what I think. I don't want awful things to happen to the characters I love. I hit a point where I figure the story can take a hike if it means going there. But if I've seen anything in my life, amazing good can come from the most heartbreaking situations. 

And that might be a reason to let my characters go there.


Lisa said...

I'm right there with you. It's so hard to make your characters go to those hard places. Heck, I shy away from them in my own life. I really have to be forced. That's probably why we connect to the reluctant hero.

But I think Richard Peck is right--we have to send our characters there. Sooner or later, we have to do it.

Tess said...

*deep breath*


Michelle said...

It is true, in real life, that the most interesting people have been through a challenge and come out the other side.

Many of my favorite stories (once again, Frances Hodgson Burnett) are about characters who have lost everything and have to build starting from nothing.

Lisa, I think this is part of what makes Annabel work. She gained one thing that caused her to lose everything else she knew, and she builds a new world for herself.

Sarah said...

Lisa, so true about the reluctant hero.

Tess, you should get your hands on that DVD. It was so good. I just kept thinking how it would be so hard for me to write that book!

Michelle, I so agree about FHB's characters. I think there's something incredibly encouraging (literally something that gives courage) about people who survive.