If you’re hearing your characters working out their tough scene, you’re in good shape. If you’re hearing the encouraging cheer of someone who supports and believes in you, you’re in really good shape.
The voice that makes me most angry is the one that whispers “you can’t do this.” The best way to shut that voice up is to prove it wrong.
But then, there’s the voice that says “you shouldn’t do this.” Great advice if you’re planning something stupid, but if you’re not—then what?
If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you already know I’m having trouble with Corporate Ladder. It went rogue not long ago, and I needed to decide what to do with the intense scene I’d written too early. It was a good scene, a logical progression from what I’d built in before, but it was too intense for the first quarter of the novel. I reread it yesterday and decided to yank it out and save it for later.
As I read it, I heard voices in my head. Familiar voices–people I know whose advice is usually sound. They were saying what they always say when I work on Corporate Ladder: “don’t.” Hearing these voices may be one of the reasons CL has been a work in progress since 2009 and never a completed manuscript. The other reason is that it’s my first serious work, and I want to do it right. I want it to be, not just good, but exceptional.
But it’s a dark drama. Not noir, but dark and rough just the same. Whenever the topic is the impact of sin on a person’s life, the work will never be sunshine and flowers. It’s a tough, serious subject, and it’s far more difficult to write than I thought it would be, primarily because keeping the main character sympathetic is a challenge.
My voices say that it’s too dark to match my brand, my image, my sunny disposition. According to the loudest voice in my ear, it isn’t a matter of whether I can write it–of course you can, says she–it’s a matter of whether I should. “People don’t want to read dark novels these days. They want to be entertained and uplifted.” And, though the voice never actually says it, there’s always the hint of disapproval. “How can this possibly glorify God?”
That one gets me every time. I asked a fellow author about this and have treasured his response ever since:
Darkness only serves to contrast the light. We live in a culture that celebrates the gray, that muddies the waters, and such. Exposing the darkness in fiction is a time-honored tradition among warriors of light. We shine the light that deepens the shadows and exposes the corruption for what it really is. Shadows hide best under overcast skies. Sunlight makes them look darker.
Whenever I worry about writing Corporate Ladder, I go back and read Michael’s response. It helps me push on.
Recently, though, I read a book by someone whose blog I used to follow, back when I had time to read a lot of blogs. His posts were always so charming and thought-provoking that I thought his book would be charming and thought-provoking too. Well, I got the second part right. It was hard to read what he’d done to his wonderful cast of characters. What I thought would be uplifting brought me down.
That reading experience got me to wondering whether the voices in my head are right. My friends and readers won’t expect something like this from me–which brings other voices to my mind, those that say, “no one will buy this anyway, and those who do will be disappointed in you.”
Negative voices are horrible things, those that tell you “can’t” and “don’t” and “shouldn’t.” Sometimes, though, these negative voices are right. They’re the ones that warn you not to take the curve at ninety miles per hour, not to take the leap when the fall is farther than you think and the landing is hard and painful. Stubborn people floor the accelerator or dive head first. They’re either fools doing foolish things with tragic results, or they’re geniuses, and the results reflect what they’ve believed all along.
When you’re talking about something as subjective as a manuscript idea, how do you know who’s right if you don’t try? And if you’re wrong, and the landing is hard and painful, at least it’s not deadly. Nothing can stop you from trying again. Just brace yourself for the I told you sos.