Monday, October 28, 2013

Pain and Plotting: What Makes Writing Resonate?

I didn't get invited to a neighborhood Halloween Party. By someone I thought was my friend.

So what? My teen years are so far in my rear view mirror I shouldn't even be able to wave at them. I'm a mom, then kind always telling my kids not to assume negative intent in others.

I'm sure she didn't mean to hurt me.

But even at my ripe old parental age, I'm still hurt.

Sorry, I don't want this to be a pit post. (Catchy. I like it.) Instead, I want to explore why we write, and why we read certain books.

Sure, I write kid lit  because I still like cupcakes and ironing fall leaves between wax paper. On a deeper level, it's also a cathartic exercise. My way of still waving back at years that I still remember, and perhaps need to work through. Like sixth grade. That year I purposely got hit in dodge ball to avoid having to play with the mean kids. Someone told my one friend that she could increase her popularity by un-friending me (no, that wasn't a word at the time, and it didn't involve online networking). That year didn't last forever, but in truth good things can come even from being the class pariah.

As we began our WIFYR workshop class last summer, Martine Leavitt quoted Katherine Patterson. "If I had known the debt I would owe to all those mean girls, I would have thanked them then."

How's that?

"Use it all," Martine told us. The pain of not getting invited, the sense of never fitting in, the girl who teased you so much you plotted to put a thumb tack on her chair.

Good writing resonates with these deeper feelings. It's good to create a likeable character. It's better, even essential, to create one who suffers. Not in a whiny, martyr syndrome way, but in a way we care about, one that makes us identify with their pain as well as their determination.

Fiction is valuable because it is truth wrapped up in story. What truth? For one, life isn't always parties and prom queens and getting picked first at kick ball. And when the character throws her own party or ends up as campaign manager for the thumb tack bully, we close the book somehow feel ready to face life again.

And just for fun, here's my Halloween Costume (for Dance Trance, not the party I've been whining about). It's supposed to be Lady Death from the Hispanic Day of the Dead celebration. I'm really into Sugar Skull face painting right now. Still trying to figure out why everything posts sideways!


Stephanie Kelley said...

Oh yes. I've suffered that same "valuable experience." The trick is to channel it into something useful. Good advice!

Alice said...

i've heard our best writing comes out of our suffering and that most writers have gone through difficult times.

Becca said...

Thanks for your comments, Stephanie and Alice!