I recently read an article that stated, “Agents and editors can’t stand authors who put restraints on their work for the sake of delicacy.” The article stated that during a workshop a participant spoke up and said: “I once had an art instructor say, ‘If it didn’t have to be pretty, what would you draw?’ ”
That totally translates to: “If it didn’t have to be pretty, what would you write?”
Keep in mind that not-pretty actually has two meanings here:
1) topics that are not attractive, like rape, racism or incest, and
2) the way you write.
Let’s face it, most people steer away from dark subject matter, but as an author there are times you must be willing to visit there, recognize it for what it truly is, explore and evaluate it before you embody, represent, or share it in a story.
Consider looking at it from a time when you were a child; before you had prejudices, before you really knew right from wrong, before you understood there was evil . . . that time of innocence.
Think back to a time when you were truly scared for the first time. For me it was around nine years old. Our old house was the one next to the railroad tracks. My two older sisters and I were following the tracks down and we came across a cardboard box. We saw no one around and we couldn’t help ourselves . . . curiosity was at a peak. We pulled out shirts and . . . you know I really don’t remember much else. What I do remember was the guy with long, flowing hair and who seemed huge come running toward us yelling; “What you kids doing with my box? Get out of here before I . . . “Heck, I don’t remember what else he said. I would doubt my siblings did either. Fear gripped me like a cold blast in a sub-zero blizzard!
I share this story because when I’m writing suspense . . . if my scene doesn’t reflect how terrified I felt that day . . . I rewrite it until it does. You can borrow from your life experiences to give you the tone you want to have in your book. Think about your first scary movie, or a time you jumped when say the head fell out of the boat in Jaws, or when someone hid behind a corner and jumped out and scared you so hard you nearly wet your pants. Borrow from those times.
Even borrow from the times you weren’t exactly the ‘best kid on the block.’ Did you maybe go rubber tubing with your friends and drink homemade dandelion wine? Did you sneak a ten dollar bill from one of your parent’s wallets or billfolds? Did you lie about going to a friend’s house to study, only to meet a boyfriend . . . to watch a movie at his house . . . or worse, have your first sexual experience?
Feel the shameless thrill it gave you - to get away with something you knew you shouldn’t be doing. Did you feel invincible? Did you think nothing could happen to you? Did you get a perverse kick out of knowing you were sneaking around . . . it gave you an adrenaline high?
Go to this place of complete or partial abandon when you are writing your book. Throw the care to the wind and add the unexpected thrill of being bad. Once you’re book is done, make sure your hero or heroine aren’t too bad . . . but no one is perfect – a little bad is human. A little bad is stimulating, exhilarating, thrilling, rousing, sensational, breathtaking, motivating . . . I think you get it. A little bad is going to make your reader relate and snicker even. Call up those demons and let it rip! Don’t hold back!
You may have to refine, adjust, or even tame the beast you released once the book is finished – but there is no doubt in my mind that you’ll feel exhilarated by the first draft . . . keep in mind, feisty characters are fun and interesting.