Thursday, March 23, 2017

In the Weeds, or Keeping the Reader Interested Through the Middle of Your Novel

I, Donis, was fascinated by Barbara’s entry, below, on writing about sex. How much is enough, how much is too much? When do you cross the line and offend your reader? Myself, I usually skip over the graphic sex scenes, mainly because they tend to bore me. There are only two people in the world whose sex life interests me at all—mine and my husband’s. As for the rest of you, enjoy yourselves but leave me out of it.

I’m working on the the middle part of my WIP right now. The beginning flowed right out of me. I knew exactly what I wanted to say to set up the novel. I have a great idea for an ending, if I can pull it off. But getting from here to there isn’t as easy as I hoped. I know which direction I’m going, but I seem to have veered off the road a little and am finding myself a little bit lost in the weeds. Long ago I learned that one way to keep the middle part of your book interesting and not get bogged down is to have at least one interesting side story going. And as long as they are interesting and add depth to the novel, I don’t even mind two or three side stories. You just need to keep people reading. Maybe I need a sex scene…

The only problem with that idea is that graphic sex really wouldn’t fit in this particular series about a married mother and grandmother in 1919. My long time readers would definitely be surprised, to say the least. Of course, we all keep our target audiences in mind, and try to write material that will not offend them so much that they won’t buy our subsequent books. We don’t want to be killing any kitties or puppies unless we absolutely have to for the integrity of the novel. Nor do we wish to go too far beyond the language/sex/violence parameters set by our publishers or agents or editors lest they decide no longer to publish us.

But there are times when the story you are telling just calls for something shocking, or it won’t ring true. My self-censorship problems have to do with the mores of the times and the place I’m writing about in my current series. In 1910s Oklahoma, there were a lot of common and wide-spread attitudes that we in the 21st Century would find unsavory in the extreme – casual racism, even among people of good will who would never knowingly harm another person of any color; assumptions about women and people of other ethnicities; the treatment of children. Can you imagine what would happen today if a parent took a belt to a whiny child in the grocery store? In 1919, it would be expected. Language, too. Words that today would give the hearer a stroke were tossed about with abandon and nobody batted an eye. And I don’t mean just epithets, either. My grandmother, a farm wife with the straightest laces you can possibly imagine, used all kinds of what we would now call scatological words. In her society, crude words for excrement didn’t have nearly the cachet they now have, probably because farm people were up to their knees in it every day of their lives.

But I don’t want readers to judge my characters by modern standards and thus think less of them. Nor do I want to present early 20th Century societal shortcomings in a way that makes light of them or seems approving. So how do I deal with the reality of the time and place? Very, very carefully, let me tell you.

No comments: