Monday, April 17

Outer limits

I've been thinking, not about what I do write about, but what I won't. I'm not talking about purposeful limitations set by my publisher or myself--I've used the f-bomb one time in 15 books and still wonder if I could have avoided it; it's just not my thing--but about things that I won't go to. In no certain order, I won't write about:
  • The death of a protagonist's child, either on or off the page, because I don't think I could represent the depth of that agony and to either underplay or stick pins in the existing scars of readers is something I'm not going to do.
  • Protagonists of another race or ethnicity, because I'm afraid I couldn't do it right and I'd rather not do it at all than insult someone with my own ignorance. This doesn't mean African-Americans and people from other countries have no place in my stories--it means I'm not going to push my own envelope far enough to leave paper cuts everywhere.
  • Huge age differences between protagonists--because I can't relate.
  • Friends betraying friends. While I think it's crazy that (many? most?) women expect more loyalty from their friends than from the men they love, I also think it's true. 
  • Stereotypes. Because they annoy me to the very depths of my soul. Let me add here that I try not to write stereotypes, but I do have a tendency toward beloved aunts who wear sandals and walk on the hilarious side of ornery.
I think sometimes that I should introduce one of these things--other than the cool aunt--into a story just to give my writer chops a good stretch. I've written about difficult things--rape, incest, infidelity--before, and must admit those scenes are ones I'm proud of.
It is something to think about, isn't it? Do you have things on your "not gonna do it" list? What are they?

Have a great week!

Liz

24 comments:

  1. I don't think I could write the death if a pet. Too much like writing the death of a child. Although I admit to killing off underage enemy combatants... but that was strategic to the story and my character.

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    1. Kristan Higgins wrote a dog's death so poignantly once (I don't remember which book) that I've never gotten over it. Not sure I'll do that very soon either!

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  2. The death of a child plays an important part of the plot of Saving Sarah, so I've done it. But even though it's looked at from a distance, it was still a tough one to write. I probably won't do that again. Otherwise, our lists pretty much match! Great post, Liz!

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    1. Thanks, Nan. You did that well, but I can only imagine how hard it was. There was a "death from a distance" of a child in Jar of Dreams, and I didn't even like that.

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  3. I had a death in the form of a miscarriage in my book only because it was central to the plot. Having been through that, writing was difficult, but the emotions came easily. I don't care for the teacher/student even if student has graduated. Creeps me out a bit. Probably because it happened at my high school.

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    1. You know, that creeps me out, too, even though I know someone who started dating her husband (secretly) when he was a 1st year teacher and she was a senior. They didn't make the relationship public until she graduated and all was--and 40 or so years later, still is--well, but I think it would be more difficult now.

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    2. Oops, hit the button too soon. It is very difficult writing about a stressful thing you've experienced personally, isn't it? I'm sorry for your loss.

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  4. I don't think I could write about the death of a child, either. The agony there...I just don't know if I could get it properly on the page. I was really scared to write the Slippery Rock series (turning in the last book this week!) because I tackled adoption and multi-cultural families and I didn't want to get any of that wrong...I hope I did it justice. :D

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    1. You definitely did. Reading Famous in A Small Town re-affirmed my belief that I shouldn't do it. I couldn't do it either as well or as comfortably as you did.

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  5. I've set two stories in the Middle East with American heroines. (I've been an American woman in the Middle East, so I knew that part.) I gave one hero an American mother and the other an Armenian Christian mother - I thought mixing racds in the previous generation me some flexibility in how I portrayed the guys. I used to resist writing from the male point of view, because I'm, you know, a woman!
    No death, no forced sex, no controling heroes.
    The book I'm woring on now has a 30-year age difference in a marriage (secondary characters). Treated comedically.
    Fun question!

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    1. I know a couple who has a 20-year age difference and it works very well and I once knew the husband half of a couple separated by 30-some years; she was older. I could never relate, like I said, but it worked for them, so I sure won't criticize. I like writing male POV, but I don't think I write it very deep because even with three brothers, two sons, and a husband of 46 years, I'm not sure what's there in the depths.

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  6. I can't write about the death of a pet. If I even suspect that the family dog is going to die in a book I'm reading, I can't finish it. I can't read it and I can't write it.

    There are several things I'd be hesitant to write about because I wouldn't want to get them wrong: the death of a child, multi-racial families or characters, cultures not my own. I would want to portray them as accurately as possible.

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    1. That's it, and it's a chance I just can't take.

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  7. Death of main characters, sort of. (Death is a complicated subject, as is violent behavior. I've tackled some violent behavior, and it wasn't easy.) The worst was when I experimented with my series' male protagonist being killed unexpectedly. I wrote it and bawled my eyes out doing it because he and his other half were such intimate parts of my writing psyche. After I finished that draft, I set it aside and mourned for a whole week. Then I decided that story wasn't ready for that kind of ending and deep-sixed it. I'm saving it, though, because it will be very useful at some point. Every time I look at it or think about it, it still affects me as if I'd lost a close friend.

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    1. I have a loss like that, in One More Summer. I wrote it years ago, and haven't gotten over it yet. She wasn't the protagonist, but she was as close to me as the protagonist was.

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  8. I think you have to be willing to let your story and characters take you where they have to go, even if it means writing something that is really hard personally. It's a way to grow as a writer. I know they say write what you know, but sometimes you have to research and write what you discover. I have a great fear of drowning being a poor swimmer. But in my last two books, I have had characters have near drowning experiences. I now know more about drowning than I ever wanted to know.

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    1. I believe that, too, that you need to let them take you where they have to go, but sometimes I have to be the one to hit the off switch because I just can't do it. It can be difficult! Thanks for coming by, Zara!

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  9. I don't know that I have any non-touchable subjects that I think of off the top of my head. In my psych-thriller, the MC is set off by the death of her premature child. There were emotions I was able to draw on from having a premature child in the Neonatal ward for five weeks. Although, thankfully, my child survived.

    I think if I veered into a different race or sexual orientation character, then I would seek out crit/resources to verify anything I wrote just to be one the safe side.

    Very good question and food for thought.

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    1. Thanks, Margie. As painful as they sometimes are, I think the scenes where we draw from our own emotions can be the most powerful. And I'm so glad you had your happy ending with your premie!

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  10. Age difference between protagonists isn't a problem with me, since there's a huge age difference between my wife and me. I'm not too worried about writing from the viewpoints of people different from me: Many of my protagonists are women, and in my mind they're more different from me than a male of another race or ethnicity. I just try to treat my characters as people first, and the less important stuff later. (And I run them by female readers.)

    Having said that, I don't think I'd want to tackle writing someone of another race *and* from another country ... not without tons of research and talking to people from those areas.

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    1. Our own experiences help, don't they? I agree about the "people first," but I still don't necessarily "go deep." Thanks for coming by, Mark.

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  11. I had the heroine of my first book die in childbirth between that book and the second one. (Where the hero meets a new heroine.) The series was based on a historical character and the hero's grief over his first wife explained something he really did in history. But I got a lot of flak over it. Some readers probably never read another of my books because of it. I wouldn't do it again, but at the time I think it freed me as a writer. The 1st heroine was so much a part of me that having her die freed me to create new heroines who were very different.

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    1. Wow. That took some courage. I don't know that I could do it. I do understand the freeing part, though--I think the character who died in One More Summer still has a tight fist around a major valve in my heart. Thank you for sharing that.

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