After the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones (which I did not watch), I posted a blog about character killing. I was responding, in part, to an interview GRRM had done on what he writes and why. I had a lot of fascinating responses to it. But then on the heels of that, I saw a tweet by Saladin Ahmed about how he writes escapist fiction to give his readers a chance to escape the real world. Now, what does that have to do with today’s post? I know I like to tell a good story. I like a captivating story that holds me tight. But when I read, I like a happy ending. Or at least not a terrible ending. I could never really read the Oprah book picks because they were inevitably depressing. Maybe they were realistic and gritty, but they were also lacking hope, or so it seemed to me.
That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy grit and blood and darkness. I do, for instance, read Faith’s books which have a bit of reality grit to them (just a small hint I’d say) and my own books are slightly on the violent, gritty side, or so I’m told. But what I like to read about are characters who struggle against terrible odds and succeed, or at least have hope. I don’t think that means that characters shouldn’t die. But I do think that for me, I need a sense of purpose to the fight. I don’t want a book that simply tortures characters because that’s what happens in real life. I’m reminded of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. It’s one book that I find very difficult to read. It’s so very bleak and hopeless. When I read it, I feel like I want to spend time in a dark room weeping for awhile.
This is not what I want from my reading. It is certainly not what I want to write.
I haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to write. The stories come out in the shape that they do, but I do realize that I like romance because it’s real in people’s lives. So are one night stands and I’m okay with that. I like action and magic and emotion and real world situations. But I have to have characters that no matter how bad their flaws are, somehow find a way to overcome. At least some of them. In my book, The Cipher, Marten is one of my favorite characters. He’s got a gambling problem and he betrays people. More than once, even though he claims to learn his lesson. That’s because real addicts don’t straighten up quickly. It takes rock bottom and it’s a struggle with setbacks. But he’s a good person and eventually he chooses honor and love and good. Flawed as he is, he finds some good.
I don’t really like writing characters who are pure evil for the same reason. The closest one is in Blood Winter, and he’s a psychopath. I did a lot of studying on psychopaths (sociopaths really). That’s the closest to pure evil that there is. But he’s not the true villain of the piece. The true villain is someone else and he’s a lot more gray.
One of the things about A Song of Ice and Fire is that there are many characters and many events, so readers can handle losing a few people because the cast is truly broad and so all their attention isn’t tied up in one or two and you’re knocked over when one dies. I have a book like that that I’m working on now, and I admit that characters will die. I don’t know who yet, and I don’t know when. I do know that I’m planning some hard choices for characters. I’m planning for them to have to do things that they absolutely don’t want to do and that will lead them into in horrible situations. I do like character torture–physical and emotional.
In the end, I want to write hopeful fiction. I’d say I want to write more Sense of Wonder fiction. Julie Czerneda’s A Turn of Light is totally sense of wonder and I’d love to write a book with that sense of joy and possibility. Yes, I want people to escape and to be entertained. I want them to be put through and emotional wringer and yet I don’t want them to walk away feeling horrible and bleak and unhappy.
When you write, what do you want to do?
And I have to apologize. I’m in the middle of a fast road trip to take stuff to the new house and I’m unlikely to be able to respond until maybe Sunday. But rest assured, I will!