Just a couple of writers on a road trip through life. Hop in, hold on, and don’t forget your rain boots.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Love and other drugs: Where are you going wrong?

If I were Ironman, I would never get sick.
Being sick makes me want to kick someone in their special places, just so they can feel my pain. I don’t though. That’s rude. But I think about it a lot, and that helps. And then I take the good meds, the ones with the words “soothing” and “relief” in the description. 

 I take my medicine. And I feel better. But I can still tap into that pain to summon up the sympathy vote if it comes down to it. Which is what I do when I’m writing. Not with flu symptoms, but with angst and heartbreak and all those horrible crappy feelings that people get when love or life kicks them in their special places. Because here’s the thing: no one really wants to read about happy, contented married couples and their (perceived) smug happily-ever-after fairy tale. In fact, no one wants to read about the daily ups and downs of married life. Those little complaints like he-doesn’t-put-his-clothes-in-the-laundry-basket or wish-I-knew-she-farts-in-her-sleep-before-the-wedding aren't interesting in fiction. Sometimes that stuff flies in social media because it’s easy to scroll past, but no one is going to sit and read a three hundred page novel of marital bliss peppered with cutesy couple complaints. 

Pain is real. People like the happy ending, but if there’s no real conflict, nothing hurting, it’s not interesting. It’s human nature. In the newspaper biz they say if it bleeds, it leads. The goriest and most shocking stories are the first ones that come up. Not to say that there won’t be some mindless drivel about Kardashians or Survivors or Idols on the newsreel, but it’s mostly murder and mayhem.

Can “happy” writers write pain?

I would have killed off The Lucky One
A good plot has five elements—intro, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Climax makes me giggle. I used to write strictly romantic stories. Two main characters—boy (handsome) meets girl (gorgeous). Everything works out like gangbusters, until something happens—fight, ninja attack, monkey pox outbreak. Cue the boombox-in-the-rain scene, and everyone works things out, talks about their feelings and how much they adore each other and want to live together forever making grilled cheese sandwiches with a clothes iron, happily ever after occurs, etc. Dull. Even when you throw in a few awkward Teri Hatcher moments of falling over the sprinkler wearing a bath towel while trying to take the garbage to the curb and getting spied on by pervy neighbor kid, it doesn’t stand up in fiction. Maybe it works for the Housewives, but if you’re asking readers to commit to a whole 200-300 page novel and not 42 minutes of television, you have to give them a reason to get sucked in. No pun intended for those writing vampire epics.

 What does it take?

 We all need that excitement and tension and drama that comes from the darker side of humanity stuff. We need the connection to the characters. We don’t need a sugar-coated love story. Even the Nicholas Sparks’ of the world throw in the curve balls so that people keep reading. Yeah, he ends his mostly happily-ever-after—I would like him better as a writer if he occasionally killed the hero at the end instead of the villain. That’s real stuff.  And as writers, the goal is to always write real.  Yeah, it’s fun when Danny and Sandy ride away into the sky in Greased Lightning after Sandy gets all tarted up and loose and stuff, but hello, they just graduated high school. Eventually she’s going off to secretary school and he’ll get a job as a mechanic and they’ll squeeze out a few brats and buy a nice home in the ‘burbs. And no one’s going to read that book.

So I write about the bad stuff too—the real stuff. People think I’m dark but I’m not dark. Not really. Really I’m the happy rainbow unicorn kitten fairytale girl. My life has it’s crapfest parts but generally we are a happy crowd. {Side note:  I’m always suspicious when people say they’re happy. Because they might look all smiley and Stepford-y but you just know there are mutilated bodies in their basement or at the very least a few decapitated stolen lawn trolls in the trunk of their SUV.}  But anyway we are happy, generally speaking, besides the occasional money worries and algebra and viruses and diaper rashes and temper tantrums and wicked zombie ant infestations. 

I read somewhere one time—at least I think I did, though I might be making this up—that when your life is generally going well you have more nightmares. The theory was that the brain has to have something to gripe about and if you don’t give it enough fodder for mayhem and evil then it just makes it up and turns it into giant man eating zombie rats that chase you around Dreamland and try to bite off your ears. I’m paraphrasing, of course.  Anyway, that works for writing. The happier and more content I am, the darker my writing gets.  I work at it, I channel it because I know that it’s more interesting if it has that murky human element.  I learned that from Kate Chopin and Edgar Allen Poe. And just when you think it’s all getting better, it’s all going to work out… kill ‘em off.  Your characters, that is. 

 Dark/light/love and pain? Leave a comment below about your favorite dark story or technique to tap into your dark side. It's not as bad as the Jedi claim.

Julie Simmons-Wixom is like rainbow-and-sunshine coated dark chocolate. Email her here if that sounds delicious. 

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