The moon shines into my writing room window. It's early morning, spring time, too early to be up, but here you have it. In front of me is my manuscript, something I love to write, something that engages me, something that I can fall into.
Last week in Friday's episode of In Treatment (have you tivo'd this yet? Do I have to mention it again?!!), the characters Paul and Gina talk about fiction. Paul accuses Gina of treating therapy like fiction, of trying to create lives, of trying to come up with a theory for every patient, of confabulating. Gina asks Paul (a good therapist Gina--doesn't get drawn in) if he would be good at writing fiction, and he tells her no, that he'd want everyone to have a happily ever after ending, the big HEA.
When I teach romance writing, I talk a great deal about the necessity of having the HEA. Readers expect it, want it, need it. When romance writers do something other than get the two main characters together, there is often hell-fire to pay. The blogsphere lights up with cries of "Foul." They never want to read that writer again. What's the point of reading romance fiction if it's going to end in death, for god's sake!
This is one of the reasons people criticize romance readers and writers--the novels are labeled as stock, formulaic, trite, expected.
When I write "non" romance fiction, I run into another problem with my editors and readers. I can be sad, but not too sad. I can write stories that have "real" issues in them, but I was often asked why all the doom and gloom? Yes, this is the way it could be in real life, but does it have to be? Could you lighten up a little?
So I can be sad but not too sad--in romance, I can be happy and get nailed for it.
I suppose I have to say I like a good HEA. The story doesn't have to end with the whole town in love, everyone pregnant and thrilled and joyous, the world's problems solved--but a little lightness will be just fine.
After having published ten novels and written more, I think I've finally found the way I want to tell a story, but it's too soon to tell. I'm on page 180 of my new manuscript, a non-romance, and just over that place I call the "tyranny of page 160," the place of potential doldrums. But now, my characters are starting to figure it out. They can see what isn't working for them any more. They are learning and growing. Like life--but in fiction, this has to happen in 300 pages. And because my novel occurs in 21 days, it's going to happen quick. Maybe that's not "real" life, but is any fiction? And as fiction is not real, no matter how hard we try to make it real, why not give the reader and, yes, the writer a little bit of joy. Why not make the characters figure out things a little sooner than you have? Why not give them that thing you have been unable to find. Chances are, your reader hasn't found them either, so spread the wealth a little bit.
I know some stories are very sad and can't be happy, and they are stories that need to be told. Absolutely. But I will never forget what Toni Morrison said about the writing of Beloved, one of the saddest stories (and best) ever written. She said she had to engineer "moments of lightness." And when you look at the ending of Beloved, it really is a romance in its way, a romance of Sethe to herself, to Paul D, a coming back and claiming of self and family and past. There is, even in Beloved, a happy ending.
Okay, off to do some work, to create a world that is real but not too real, to shape the world of characters in a way that I cannot shape the world around me.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org