As a writer it’s my job to explore the furthest corners of the human experience and it’s usually a wonderful adventure, fraught with challenges and excitement, but occasionally it can be painful.
I recently had to write a scene that made me incredibly uncomfortable. In my first draft, I skimmed over it, writing what I thought was adequate and moving on. But a kind friend called me out on the lack of reverence in the scene and I was forced to revisit it.
Initially, I had no idea I’d avoided dealing with the ‘bad’ and it wasn’t until going over it that I realised I’d wimped out. I’m not going to go into too much depth about the scene itself; you’ll read that in the book, but needless to say something horrific takes place and my first draft hadn’t done it justice.
So, knowing I needed to get to grip with the emotional fallout, I mentally prepared myself for what was to come by shoring up my defences and looking at the scene again with a critical eye. Having prepared myself for the tough task ahead, I was able to see where I’d misstepped – where I’d skirted around the raw necessity of exploring the pain my character was going through. In avoiding the horror, I hadn’t done him justice. A mortal sin for any writer.
This got me thinking about how, as writers, if we are to be true to our characters we sometimes visit things we would rather avoid. I read a quote recently, to paraphrase, ‘Don’t blame the author for the actions of their characters’. A similar thing can be said for the experiences of the characters. I might write my characters into horrific circumstances, but to fully explore the potential of a story, we must go where angels fear to tread. On a personal level I don’t want to witness the tragedy (hence my first draft skim-over); it’s like watching a horror moving through your fingers, but we must put ourselves directly in their shoes and channel the deep, heart-wrenching emotions if we are to treat our stories with the reverence they deserve.
It can be painful; it should be painful. It’s only when it hurts we know we’re doing it right.