As I finished reading this morning, my muse hit me hard. The book was Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book Of Longings. (The book review explains in greater detail what I liked and why I suggested it.)
I am addressing this from the angle of writers; the book review is from a reader’s perspective.
The favorite question in my writer’s group is ‘what if?’
Ms. Kidd was not afraid to answer the call when the question hit her. Many writers stop short when they imagine a potentially controversial topic. Upon coming up with the idea of her story’s premise, she did not back down. Her question was about the supposition of Jesus Christ having a wife. Had she not catapulted herself into creating this story, the book would not have made the NYT’s bestseller list, been the hot topic of book groups, or made it to my morning reading pile.
Writing is risky. Writers who take risks write interesting material.
Writers take thoughts out of their heads, private space, and share it with the universe. Writers do not choose their audience, the audience chooses the writer. Writers may write with an intended audience in mind, but have no control over who picks up the book, reads the dust jacket, scans the blurb, and brings it to the cashier or the librarian.
Now take a controversial topic and it exacerbates the risk level. Writing is the art of creating from internal inspirations. The world inspires us. Ideas float in front of us, ideas come from actively sought knowledge, or inactively dreamt dreams. Whatever it is, it compels a writer to pick up a pen or click away at a keyboard. Writers want to write about what inspires them. Many writers hesitate. Why? Because the reaction and feedback is beyond one’s control. Luckily, there is a lot of good material springing forth, but what about the pieces we miss out on? Sadly, we may never know.
Writers must put characters into risky situations in order to grab the reader’s interest. A character who is flat and does nothing is boring. As my writer’s group says, make them suffer, struggle, and feel pain. It’s all made up anyway, and someone either has to rescue the character, or they must rescue themselves, or they have to affect someone outside of themselves to be of interest.
Writers ask themselves questions to compel their characters and their stories forward. A reader reads a story for its thematic flow and for the relation of connected events that bring a plot to fruition and a character through its arc. Writers have to ask themselves the right questions and painstakingly answer them. Can the character be put out on a limb to create a compelling story? If there is no struggle, there is no story.
Ms. Kidd released the thought into the wild. Her idea was to give a voice to someone who, if this person had existed, might have sounded like this and this may have been her story. That’s the beauty of fiction and being a fiction writer.
It’s called fiction for a reason.
Push your writing to the edge.