Saturday, August 21, 2010

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

I'm a Christian and not an I-do-my-best-on-Sunday type but rather, one who's striving to grow. I'm also a writer who primarily pens secular YA. In YA these days, anything goes, as long as it's in moderation. Maintaining a junkfood mentality is best. You can show grit, violence, sensuality, sex, racism, drug abuse, alcoholism, profanity, cutting, pregnancy, even incest or other taboo moderation. And I like that this door has been opened. It allows writers to show reality as well as fantasy.
Teen readers don't WANT to be shocked, they want works that get them, that don't preach, that take them somewhere they've never been or let them experience something they'd never dare or get or want to in reality. YA readers are the most passionate readers out there. They know when you're being fake, when you're cutting corners. They want characters they can identify with, books that aren't afraid to tackle or talk about the issues they or their friends are dealing with. Because, frankly, not everyone has a rosy life, and no one lives in a bubblegum world.

And when I'm writing any given book, especially for this age group, I'm never thinking, how can I maintain my moral center in these most awesome words? I just write. I let loose and let my characters be however they are. If I'm thinking at all about what I'm penning, it's ALWAYS, what would a character truly think, feel, do, say? What's true voice here? What's real? And when you write in that rawness, someone, somewhere will be offended.
Am I trying to be offensive? No. And I going for shock value? No. Am I being lazy? Um, do you know me at all? Have you not heard my almost daily rants and raves about excellence? High-throned, Christian writers who are opposed to profanity in works like to use the "lazy" tag. "You told when you could have shown...You could have been more creative, like the air around him turned blue." Ugg. Well, sometimes swears are woven into what someone is saying. Sometimes they're not isolated or anger-driven or derogatory, like, "What a bitchin' day." Sometimes there are no suitable euphemisms. You try and come up with one for "wiseass" from a teen's mouth! There isn't one. Wiseguy? I think not. I can't use smart aleck either. The character it's said to IS Alec.

You call your brother a jerk if he plays a joke on you. But what do you call or say to the guy who shoots your best friend in front of your face? What would you really say and do? Would you really be thinking What Would Jesus Do in that moment? Come on, be honest.

If you want readers to feel as your POV character does, if you want to show the scene for all its worth, you show what's real and organic.
If you're writing about gangs or prisoners or skinheads, or teens even, "showing" bad language all the time is not only tiresome for the writer but the reader as well. You have no credibility when you do that. You, as a writer, are too present in the work. Readers are constantly aware that YOU are censoring and playing morality cop, that you're bending over backwards to avoid using bad language. If you put in substitutions that you KNOW shouldn't be there, you're a cringe-inducing wuss, let's be real. If you have to overthink what you're writing, it's not organic and true.

Readers can read the whole work, even think it was all right, but they'll never identify, they'll never truly "feel" it. I'm not saying you HAVE to use profanity or violence or sensuality or go against your comfort level. I'm saying you should be daring enough to be real and true to the characters and story, however that is.
The Bible is full of sensuality, violence, bad language and grit so that it can make its point, so that the good and bad in humanity can be shown. So, why can't I do that? Why can't I express the fallen world we live in? I'm not afraid to tackle issues that other Christian writers shy away from.
For instance, I'm writing a Christian novel now with a husband and wife on different pages sexually and it contains frank sexual dialogue. Why? Because it's a REAL issue. Because marriages are breaking up over it. Because spouses are being tempted to cheat or are filling voids in wrong ways. I'm trying to show life how it is, not make people blush. I'm trying to present this very real struggle and demolisher and provide a springboard for communication and show the danger in NOT communicating. So what if it's not sterile or morally approved! So what if it's not your cup of tea! If this sort of conflict is not an issue for you and sends you running off for Q-tips to clean out your tainted ears, fine, the book's not for you then, but that doesn't mean others aren't dealing with it. This book may even be too edgy for Sheaf House, so I may have to self-pub it, and I'm okay with that. A book like this has to be honest and frank, otherwise it makes no impact.

If you write, if you dare to pick up that pen, you'd better be prepared to deliver whatever the story demands.
I know I am going to be judged by many Christians and that when I do publish they'll say hurtful things. I know many of my friends will NOT like my work. But I cannot dilute or censor a story just because a few people will get ruffled feathers. There are times when I show grace and redemption, characters making bad choices, grappling with guilt, leaving darkness. If I don't dare to be real and credible in all things, then those more important spiritual matters will never be taken seriously. None of my writing will be.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Afflictions That Bug Me

Most writers develop crazy and/or unexpected afflictions, bugs and glitches. Insomnia. Coffee Addiction. Procrastination. High blood pressure. Self Doubt. Neck and back kinks. Here are some maladies I’ve developed since deciding to start a writing career.

Typing Dyslexia. My ideas formulate much faster than I can type. I know, I know. You’ve never heard of TD cuz right now it’s not recognized by medical and educational pros, but I'm working on that. I do have it for real. While I know how to spell, more often than not, I type letters all out of sequence, like earlier, broken was robken, and even worse, callings was cassling. See? Way off. Not even close. I never used to have this problem when I worked in advertising, typing up newsletters, brochures or whatever. Since I‘ve been writing larger works, I’ve acquired not just fumbly fingers but a muddy brain. TD keeps me moving at a moderate pace and I can't fly according to my super sonic preference.

Skepticism. In needing to research things so much for long fiction and examine human behavior, I now view the world, its inhabitants and events in broader and deeper terms and have become skeptical of politicians, the media and propagated information. On the flip side, as a reader I have no problem suspending disbelief for fiction when it's well-written.

Hunger. No. Not for Doritos or chocolate, though in all honesty, that could apply too. My bigger hunger is for inspiration. I’m a gathering junkie. I cannot be somewhere, church, the mall, Six Flags or Walmart without thinking about how things I observe could apply to my writing. Everywhere I go, I see people who would make good characters or I hear bits of dialogue that fascinate me. I went to the beach last week with my family, and as I was sitting on the blanket with my daughter, I was people watching and wishing I’d brought a pen. I can't even relax for one afternoon. I read news articles with the specific purpose of finding tidbits. I’m never sure how and where I will use such pieces, but I like to jot them down in my Xany Files for future use.

Eloquence. I’m a total Word Nerd. I love words. I love building my vocabulary and learning new jewels. But glitzier words are not always appropriate to use when you‘re writing. So I’m always battling to make my work fresh and zingy yet simplified at the same time. For one of my POV characters, I wanted to create a more ominous tone and he’s super intelligent, so I allowed myself to use meatier words in the narrative, but usually I have to keep them hidden in my pocket with the lint balls and gum wrappers.

Tossing-Turning Syndrome. When I'm really inspired or under pressure, I have what I call working dreams. I think that's a lucid dream, where I'm sleeping and know I'm sleeping and dreaming. Anyway, somehow I decide to work while I'm sleeping. In my delusional brain, I actually feel excited that I'm making good use of my time and being productive while sleeping. I end of flopping around like a dying fish all night. I think I'm so brilliant until I wake up in the morning exhausted, feeling as though I never slept.

I’m sure I have many other ailments, but those are my big ones. If you’re a writer, have you come down with sneezes and sniffles? If so, what?

Curiosity. That’s another one of my bugs, but I’ve had that since childhood, so it doesn’t actually count.

Write on. Rock on. Be blessed and inspired.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Kind of Writer Are You?

I'm all visual. My scenes are primarily action and dialogue. If there isn't much to be done, said or experienced, it isn't much of a scene to me. And I usually let my scenes, especially really intense ones, play in my head for a while before I write them down, and this gives my writing a more cinematic feel.

I don't like build-up scenes or ones that show characters getting somewhere, unless that ride is interesting. I don't like reflection scenes, where characters stop to mull over what's happened. I prefer to move fast, and not give readers much time to breathe and or relax.

I prefer to write scenes that are truly scenes, with characters doing something or talking with someone. Description and introspection are written with a delicate hand. I give the basics for orientation and that's it. You won't hear me going on and on about some meadow, unless something dangerous is lurking therein. You won't see my characters moaning and complaining for five chapters, doing nothing, being passive. I don't like wallflowers, saps, blobs. So I don't write about them. You won't see my story standing still.

I love to skip all the pleasantries and get into the heart of things, drop readers right into the middle of scenes, and I fully trust that they'll get it. I usually have to go back and add a little introspection and surrounding narrative in order to provide a better flow.

In YA, word economy is so important, so I don't like to waste words on unimportant details. When you only have about 80,000 words to tell your story, and that's the top end where everyone starts to get squeamish about book length, I just can't bear to keeps pages of fluff when the complexity of my plot is far more important.

So, what kind of writer are you?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.