It has been a long road since I started writing my novel Blood Feud. The journey began in April of 2012. I remember it well — a month of straight writing where the ideas just flowed like water. They pooled onto the page with little effort as months of thinking about my story and characters finally found a permanent place on the page. My story flourished but my poor family suffered from neglect. So at the end of the month and about 50,000 words later, I took a break. A few weeks later I came back to my marvelous work of art to realize everything I had written was total crap. And that pretty much sums up the next four years. Awesome spurts of writing where words flowed and family suffered just to end up with… yep you guessed it, more crap.
That my friends is the way of the writer as I am sure some of you are quite familiar with.
But something happened in my fifth year of writing. During my sixtieth (and really that’s not much of an exaggeration) rewrite of Blood Feud, the crap fell away and a good story finally started to form. At least to the point where I felt confident enough to send my work to a professional author, editor, and friend (Michael Knost) so he could tell me it was crap too. And to my surprise, he said it was a pretty awesome story.
There are thousands of stories that fill books, computers and magazines, but what makes one story standout above other stories? Why are we drawn to some and not others? What makes a story memorable? You might say excellent writing style, stellar plot, fabulous characters, or unique content? I for one believe that even more than all those things a great story involves something more. It is the writer making the hard choices and deciding to torture the hell out of their characters, the writer that isn’t afraid of upping the stakes just a little bit higher, the writer who doesn’t shy from letting their dark side take control.
As a writer, I know it is easy to grow attached to characters as we write our stories. They come alive, leaping from the pages to walk around in our heads. We may even come to see them as “real” people and become involved with them on a deep level. We are attached to them as they become our children. What does every parent want, but to see their child grow, for them to be happy and see them get what they want. We want “our children” to get their happy ending. But by giving that happy ending are we being true to the story?
I have found that to have a great story sometimes it is necessary to be the bad guy and let bad things happen. Bad things happen in real life so why not in the stories; however, in stories, we can control those bad things and have meaning come out of them, which doesn’t always happen in real life. That meaning can be profound and move a reader to a different understanding or even change their minds. It can even be powerful enough to create a lasting impression on the writer him/herself.
Some writers even enjoy taking a step back from reality and letting the dark side consume their stories. They find it therapeutic an outlet for dealing with troubles in their real lives. That funneling of frustration from the real world creates stories that speak to readers for generations. So next time you find yourself faced with the tough decision- “Do I kill a character off?” “Do I deny my lovers a happy ending?” “Do I have my main character go to jail for committing a crime, instead of getting off miraculously in the end?” – consider that doing the “right thing” might mean doing a bad thing. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you want, it’s what the story needs.