Monday, February 2, 2015

Accept Your Guilty Pleasures or You’ll Never Be Interesting

And by you, of course, I mean me.

Story goes like this:

Several years ago I was in a reading funk. I had all sorts of books I had been intending on devouring, and not one of the piqued my interest. I so completely did not care about any of them. I wasn’t reading anything, and honestly, they all started out in a boring way. Yes, I knew that it was mainly me, but it didn’t matter because knowing something doesn’t necessarily mean you can force your way out of it.

Then, one day I got a migraine. This wasn’t so uncommon for me, but it was extreme. My biggest issue with migraines is the light sensitivity. Often they’re caused by manufactured light, like television or computer monitors—having stared at them far too long—but after they arrive, it can be any sort of light that affects me. Wrapping my head in a scarf to blind myself, I laid on the floor, completely bored out of my mind, unable to do anything that required sight. Couldn’t read, couldn’t paint, couldn’t write, couldn’t even really watch T.V., even though I could have just listened to it.

I asked my mother to read to me. Handing her all the books that I wanted to start, I allowed her to pick. Not a big fantasy or science-fiction fan, she chose the one young adult book that had more of a realistic setting, though magic was involved. (I, personally, prefer completely new worlds, where my mother doesn’t.)

When it started, it was dull. Blah, blah, she moves to a new country. Blah, blah, two old women pick her up. Blah, blah, they take her to their house where they force her to do magic.

But because I couldn’t do much of anything else, I let my mother read on, until we got to the point—the main point—in which we both immediately got absorbed into the book.

The villain was going to force the protagonist to marry him.

Now, I was interest. I felt my mood shift instantaneously, overtly, doing a complete 180. I read the series in three days, unable to put them down .

I remember distinctly thinking, “This is what hooks me?”

Developing as a writer is mainly about achieving balance. Most times, when starting out, we lean too far on one spectrum and ignore the importance of the opposite element. We are either originality Nazis, refusing to write anything that we find has been written before—making us unable to write anything at all—or near plagiarists, spewing page after page of fan-fiction and screen adaptations. We are perfectionists, sacrificing quantity for quality, trashing every beginning that isn’t just right, or prolific creators of tangent-ridden, typo infused crap. But most importantly, many writers, when first starting out, will either pander far too much to their fantasies and delusions—creating Mary Sues and silver-spooned characters—or we will punish everyone, creating gravity, severity, meaning, but refusing to give into any of those silly things that we actually like in a story.

I was definitely of the second category. My characters are often non-magical beings in magical worlds. They are peasants or merchants or freelancers, outcastes, yes, but just regular people trying to survive. The side-characters are often self-involved, few of them truly want the protagonists or need their great skills. I struggled with my poor fighters, trying to get them to survive in a dangerous world. My stories never pandered to unrealistic fantasies—and that’s exactly what they were missing.

When it comes to restraint, I don’t even need to think about it. When it comes to a free admission of what I’d like to see, that’s where I struggle.

Many authors don’t need this advice. They accept their “guilty pleasures” with ease, maybe even thinking of that label as inaccurate or idiotic. We’ve all read writers who are inclined to submit a little too much to what they want to see happen, making it completely unrelatable or believable.

But there are those of us who do need to accept our wishes. Who need to give our characters a little more of a boost, to make them luckier, smarter, stronger, to make them more desirable. Wish fulfillment is an important factor in drawing an audience in. Even in movies that are based around a gritty reality have to give their readers some sort of motivation to go on, an enjoyable relief, no matter how temporary.

If you take a movie like Castaway, which is filled with a normal person dealing with an extreme situation, featuring problem after problem, the protagonist being tortured throughout, it still panders to people’s deepest wishes or fantasies—I will be the only one to survive, I would be able to withstand the odds—not to mention the audience wants to see him escape, to be happy again.

The level in which you allow your fantasies to take control over the situation can vary drastically and still appeal to someone. But if you don’t give the audience anything, they won’t care about what you have to say. I know that, and I’ve known it for a while.

The issue for me was always to acknowledge my true tastes and what I want to be writing. I have respect for certain authors whose work I, honestly, don’t even really like. It’s hard to read or get through, and yet I recognize the skill level, the balance struck, the reason why other people love them. I have the tendency to write like the author I respect, but not like ones I love.

Do you feel like your books are lacking? Do you read it and know that it’s missing something? There is a good chance that you aren’t allowing yourself to say what you really want to say, have something happen that would excite you.

I need more silly love. I need more full-blown, less logical, dangerous romance. Sometimes I can have more than one guy fall for the girl. Sometimes an antagonist should want a character so much he’s willing to sacrifice his ultimate goal. A force marriage to up the stakes, while silly, is attractive. I may find my guilty pleasures stupid, but they’re pleasurable for a reason. I have to finally admit that if I want to bring that same kind of pleasure, I need to be willing to look a little foolish. Guilty pleasures may be embarrassing, but we all have them. It’s time to own up.