Back in March, I wrote a blog post called On Non-White Characters and their Representation in Fiction. I read it again recently, while trawling back through old posts to look for ideas for new ones (you can blame two and a half weeks chained to the dining room table squashing quotes, definitions, and the workings of 17th century France into my head for that).
An idea promptly flew out of my screen and splattered quite magnificently all over my face.
In the post, I mentioned my most recent writerly abomination, Ikarus. Easily one of the most challenging stories I have ever attempted to write (except perhaps for that valiant attempt at a creation myth that is currently mouldering in my "golden oldies" folder), the story brought me up against a hundred and one stumbling blocks that I'd not previously encountered.
Needless to say, the first draft makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty paperclip. Not in the least because I'm scared of it.
No, no, it's not because the characters have achieved self-realisation and are currently laying siege to the fourth wall. It's because there are things in it that I am unsure of. Things that don't fit the conventional moulds of character and storytelling. Things I'm not sure will help the book in any way, were I ever to nudge it in the direction of an agent. Things that most of the readerly world seems to ignore, deplore, or, simply, consider a bore.
In short: I'm scared of my first draft because it's different.
I shouldn't be.
And nor should you.
First drafts are intimidating enough without containing issues or elements that the writer isn't sure about. After all, after sharks and hand grenades, there are very few things more terrifying than readers vocalising their hatred for your book. Especially when you knew full well you were taking a risk with presenting something outside the norm.
These sources of agony can be to do with the messages in your book: political, religious, or otherwise. They can be linked to views and actions of the characters in the book. Heck, most of the problems can stem from the characters themselves - one of the most pertinent today being their sexuality, although belonging to any unorthodox bracket can be just as hair-raising for the poor writer.
However, I don't think writers should be afraid of presenting things that aren't in line with the norm. Heck, it's not our job to do that. Some of the most acclaimed works in history were extremely controversial - just look at Banned Book Week, and you'll see how many of those books contain issues that are still alive and kicking in teeth today!
No one should ever be afraid of including an issue or viewpoint in their story. In fact, I'd say we ought to advocate it - issues need raising before they can be resolved, after all. Their presentation and handling is a delicate balance, but I think that unless people have the courage to step up and do so, then we'll all be stuck in a hole with no ladders and a shovel that's older than your grandmother's evil tomcat.
But this post isn't just about the big things - war and death and love and life and humanity in all its convoluted glory. This post is also about the little things. One of my biggest niggles in Ikarus, for example, was the presentation of my nineteen-year-old male narrator. He's not exactly your action hero type - heck, he's not even your conventional male narrator; awkward, nervy, embarrasingly effusive, and an arch-procrastinator, he's exactly the sort of character whose less typical - and, I will admit, more effeminate - personality is likely to draw fire in its deviation from the norm.
Hang on a second . . . Why should anyone be afraid to present a character, a story, or an idea that differs from the run-of-the-mill Sainsbury's Basics selection? Why should we ignore these people and viewpoints simply because they don't fit in with a norm? Why should we be afraid to do so?
Answer: we shouldn't. Why?
Because difference is important.
Because difference is true to the world we live in.
Because difference is good. And I believe the reading public know that. For every person who turns up their nose at your story for going into an area that does not agree with them, there will be another who will love it for doing so.
Because . . . why not?
~ Charley R