In real life there are at least two sides to every story and nothing is either black or white. In today’s guest post, Kristina Riggle (Real Life & Liars, The Life You’ve Imagined, and Things We Didn’t Say coming June 28, 2011) explains how this same fact applies to people — whether real or fictional.]
Early in my career as a novelist, I sighed with relief that my writing no longer had to hurt anyone’s feelings.
In my newspaper days, I had to print nasty things that Politician A said about Politician B, because both were prominent and that made such mud-slinging “news.” I remember interviewing a trembling mother about her murdered daughter, and the poor choices the young woman made which the police thought contributed to her slaying. More than once I remember interviewing someone and the person would raise their eyes to meet mine and ask, “Do we have to put in the part about (embarrassing yet newsworthy background) ?” And I’d have to say yes, we do.
Oh sure, like all journalists I reminded myself that the truth hurts but is necessary. That I was just doing my job. And I still believe this to be true. Obviously, journalists can’t sanitize their stories for the sake of protecting feelings.
But when I quit that day job and began the transition to fiction writing, I thought with great relief that those days of hurting with my words were behind me.
Or, are they?
When people ask what I write, my glib answer is, “I write novels about screwed-up people.” My characters behave badly, early and often. They fumble their way toward something better by the end (most of them, usually) but to say they are “flawed” is the least of it.
I write about screwed-up people because they are interesting, even if they are not always endearing. Some of the interesting-not-always-endearing characters in THINGS WE DIDN’T SAY include a divorced father named Michael, so wrapped up in his fading career and his ex-wife’s drama he barely notices his fiancée struggling to stay above water in his stormy household.
The young fiancée, Casey, has kept huge chunks of her life hidden from the man she claims to love, not comprehending how damaging her secrets would be when spilled into the light of day.
The ex-wife, Mallory, manipulates the other characters and ratchets up the drama the minute she arrives on the scene.
To me these people are just made up and the story is made up. What could be the harm?
My mother, reading an advance copy, told me she assumed that my kid sister’s childhood tummy aches must have inspired the stomachaches suffered by the youngest child in the story, Jewel.
Oh. I hadn’t even realized I’d done that. (Sorry, Kim).
I’ve learned by now, on book three, that people will read themselves into fiction (even if they didn’t grow up in the same household as the author). And if they see themselves in my characters behaving badly, my words might sting.
The only remedy I can imagine is for me to treat all my characters with respect and sincerity, even the ones that will make readers want to throw the book across the room. Sure, my characters behave badly, but they are complex and real and rounded. In other words, even the worst ones aren’t completely bad.
Just like my journalism subjects. In newspapers and novels both, I work in shades of gray.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away three copies of Making Waves by Tawna Fenske in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Presenting Debutante Tawna Fenske and Making Waves. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.