Writing Against the Grain

When I started writing crime fiction, the reader for Hodder and Stoughton at the time, told me she had enjoyed my novel and had to read it to the end. Her criticism however was that my 'bad guys' were simply somewhat 'naughty'. How could I write bad after a life of trying to be good. Being bad was just not me. Growing up. I was often being left to look after siblings, or made to watch over peers when their teacher had to step away or otherwise given duties to ensure everyone behaved. Anyway, I dug deep into the characters and rewriote the piece and this gracious reader confessed that she 'could not sleep' after re-read.

So, how do you go against your own character while writing?

Perhaps the answer will truly depend on who you are. Different writers will have their own devices, is my guess. My characters are often doing things I would never consider. I often feel that I am only writing down what they show me? As a result, they catch me out half the time with what they say and do and think and feel. I have been known to laugh out loud, cringe or even back away from the keyboard, only to return to see what will happen next.

To some extent, a write is a voyeur. How often have you said or heard someone say, 'that novel is well observed'? That said, there are still story lines that I find I need to be dragged through, often kicking and screaming. Top of my life has to be where someone goes missing. As I write this, the new reports are full of the story of a mother who disappeared and after weeks of searching, he body had now been found in the river a mere mile from where her dog had been found waiting by her mobile phone.

Violence against women is my next taboo. I grew up witnessing too much of it and read many a fairy tale in which I was delighted at the part where knights in shining armour would slay dragons and rescue damsels. So writing female characters into harm and danger, like writing about 'evil doers' or about 'loss' was against the grain for me. You can see the dilemma, when all stories demand some form of conflict to keep readers interested and turningnthe page to see wht happens next.

Crab Juice, for example, has scenes that provided my own nightmares because the story contained all of the above. To some extent the only way I could have completed it was to step out of my own skin and inside that of the characters. Put another way, I became the instrument by which the characters told their own story. Much like driving a car under strict instruction as to where to go.

Is that all there is to it? I expect not.

Writers are inevitably influenced by everything they have ever observed, whether by their own solid experience or that of others. Besides this, the stories we digest, be it through reading and films or oral tradition, sit in our psyche, affecting our likes and, equally, our dislikes, and I am convinced this is a small, but crucial, part of a writer's ability to write against the grain. #againstthegrain #violencegainstwomen