Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writing to the extreme edge

In your writing, do you have a character that does something you'd never do? Something so extreme that it's just not plausible in the ordinary world? Or maybe your character is the playing-it-safe type, but something outrageously extreme happens to him or her.

Not every best-seller has this extreme element. But as I glanced over the books so far I've read in the past few years, all the ones that really stood out to me are the ones that go to the extreme edge.

I'll start with Twilight as an example, because we're all pretty much familiar with that one.

Bella masquerades as an ordinary girl that millions of girls and even older women can relate to. But she goes to the extreme edge by falling in love with a blood-sucker, and everything about their relationship is extreme, too - stalkerish, obsessive - and with every book it gets weirder, from vampire police to vampire wars and then finally vampire-human babies. You either love these books or you think that they are insane and the author has a twisted sick imagination. (I'm still not sure which camp I'm in). Or maybe, to be fair, we sense we too have a bit of this twisted imagination inside of us, and we admire Meyers for being brave enough to let it out in public and have fun with it.

The Hunger Games is another example. Talk about extreme - teenagers sent to fight each other to the death in the most horrific reality show ever. And I'm not just talking an extreme premise - what the characters do and what happens to them is unrelentingly intense and almost holocaust kind of "how could that HAPPEN?"

Across the Universe, by Beth Revis: being frozen for hundreds of years to colonize a planet no one really knows is livable or not. Extreme. Not to mention the living conditions on that space ship. Oh my.

Possession, by Elana Johnson: teenagers going up against a government that uses mind-control.

Falling Under, by Gwen Hayes: taking a voluntary trip to hell.

And it's not just dystopia and paranormal. I just finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, which is as real-world as it gets, about two black maids in the south in the 1960's and an idealistic white girl who wants to write their stories. What the three of them go through is EXTREME.

The author is not afraid to go out on a limb. I mean, what kind of guts does it take for a white woman to write a book in the point of view of two black women, in a time period before she was born? Can you imagine how every black person who reads this is going to be critically evaluating her attempt? Think about it. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, was still written from a white girl's perspective. This book is a white author giving voice to black women. Putting her own words into their mouths. Now that's risky. AMAZING book, by the way.

Does this bring to mind any books you've read that have an extreme element? Would you be willing to take your writing to an extreme even if it means potentially millions of people will be questioning what's going on in your head that you came up this stuff?  Writing is a scary business, isn't it?

p.s. My ROW80 friend C. Lee McKenzie passed an award on to me - thank you!(Make sure you stop by her blog, she's posted a video of her interview on CBS!)  Now that I've got this extreme business off my mind, in my next post I'll be passing along her award plus some others I'm way overdue to say thanks for, from Sophia Richardson, Girl Friday,  and Tanya Reimer.

p.p.s. And a big thank you to my other ROW80 fellow writers,  Susan Kaye Quinn (sharing her progress through the "middle muddles") and Sheri Larsen (sharing more helpful advice on rewriting). And thank you, Ghenet, for always stopping by to check on my progress too! I had a great writing week. I got a first cut done on an eight-page synopsis. Anyone else think that eight pages of synopsis is as much work as at least twice or three times the amount of regular writing? But what a great way to make sure all the necessary plot points and character motivations are in place! (Here's a great one-page cheatsheet pdf for writing a successful synopsis).

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