Writing advice from yours truly
Here’s my latest piece for the CreateSpace blog. Check it out. Leave a comment. Join the community.
Do you know your story’s inciting incident? The inciting incident is the event that drives your protagonist toward the pursuit of a certain outcome. Or, as writing guru Robert McKee puts it in his book Story, it’s “an event that radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life.” It usually comes in the form of drastic change and puts your main character in a position where he/she must take action. That action is usually outside the bounds of his or her normal behavior and causes conflict that propels growth. In many ways, it’s the keystone of your character arc.
Just say it!
I am offensive. I have to be. I’m a writer. This is something I struggled with for a long time because in my non-writery life I’m a nice, if not downright decent guy. I’m the kind of guy who leaves a note on someone’s windshield if my car door opens too wide and might have possibly dinged their door. I hold doors open for people. I say “Bless you” to perfect strangers when they sneeze.
But when it comes to storytelling, I have to leave myself at the door when I write because the characters and the story are far more important than my desire not to offend people. One need only to take a look at the first line of my young adult horror/scifi novel, The Takers, to see how truly offensive I can be. That line is: “We killed the retarded boy.” It is stark and plainly spoken. In short, it evokes emotion, and that is my job as a writer. I have had people tell me they loved the first line, and I’ve had people tell me they were deeply troubled by the first line, so much so that they almost stopped reading. I’m happy with both reactions. If I tried to write a non-offensive version of the line it wouldn’t have the same power. Don’t believe me? Try this on for size. “We took the life of the boy with Down syndrome.” Is it as effective? I don’t think so. It’s too wishy-washy, too sanitized. For me, the best writing is dirty and gritty and unapologetic. At the risk of sounding corny, a writer has to transcend sentiment in order to tell a story. The emotion of a story comes from the characters and the setting not the author.
When you start thinking about how a plot or character or phrase may offend the reader, you’re dead in the water as a writer. You’re story arc will be a flat line. Your characters will be one dimensional with no growth, and conflict will basically be absent from your story. Don’t contrive offensiveness. That’s as ineffective as not being offensive at all. Be offensive because the story calls for it. It’s scary to do at times, but you have to muster up the courage and do it because your story will be better for it.
You will take your share of slings and arrows. I certainly have. To quote a mother in Oklahoma: I cannot believe that these were in the teen section. Gross, Gore, Evil, Blood, Guts……….I’m so full of regret that I had ever bought these. Actually, I love her review. She clearly didn’t read the books because the story is actually a tale of good vs. evil, where good struggles but ultimately prevails, but she had a real emotional, visceral reaction. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Writers, offend with impunity… well there will be punity but try not to let it get to you.