Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Take That! And That!

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.  -- Albert Camus

I haven't blogged in a long time. But, hey, I've been busy doing writerly stuff. And I've even finished a novella, my story Honor C, which is scheduled for publication at Dreamspinner Press in May/June.

Now that my sneaky pitch is out of the way...

I'm approaching---with caution---a subject that's on my mind. It's on my mind a lot.

Angst. Angst in our writing. My writing included. Remember as I progress that I said, emphatically: MY WRITING, TOO.

All who know me have heard me gripe and moan about my weariness of angst in stories. Authors just can't seem to write enough of it and readers just can't seem to read enough of it.

And the only reason I'm venturing to talk about it today is because I...oh, dear gods, yes, me, C. Zampa...has gone and done the angst thing herself. Yes, yes. I have. I didn't mean to. It just happened. And it fit the story, I swear it did! I repent of my past transgressions of griping about turmoil and drama in stories. For I have fallen into the dark pit myself.

But first...

What is it about angst? Why do we like to cry so much? Why are books given a Klennex rating? The more hankies it takes to get through a book, the better.

Why do we get giddy with anitcipation when an author warns us that we'll need to buy stock in the tissue company when we read this book or that book?

Why do we cheer like lazy, over-fed Roman spectators at a gladiator bout when an author tells us---with a fiendish gleam in their words---that they just offed a character or maimed them in some horrific way?

Oh, the delicious things in my head, all a keystroke away from happening to my characters!

Why is a book that is light on angst called 'fluff'? (Which I kind of find demeaning, as it seems to imply silliness and emptiness simply because it doesn't include trauma). When---in all fairness---books in which nothing traumatic and tragic happens are usually as well written and as good as stories with those elements.

There's a lot of debate on the subject. Some suggest that those who don't like angst in their books are not in touch with real life and, therefore, cannot take the stuff in their reading either.

On that, I can only say. Whoa. Back up, baby. I know angst, I've known angst in my life. Angst and I are old buddies. As a mother who lost her son (son-in-law, but he was a son to me) to a long battle with cancer, I am no stranger to tragedy and trauma. So to suggest I can't handle constant Kleenex use while reading because I'm not in touch with reality? Nuh-uh. Not so. You take that back.

A confession...

My beta read for one of my latest WIP's and questioned me. Seems I'd---oh, geez, I'm blushing---thrown a handicap into the equation and she confronted me. She wanted to know why. She knew my stance on angst-for-the-sake-of angst and wondered why I, of all people, had decided to use this handicap. She cornered me. What did this condition add to the story, she wanted to know? I had to confess. Absolutely nothing. It was, I will admit, for sympathy. I, C. Zampa, confess. I wanted to make it more dramatic.

But the funny part...

My upcoming story, Honor C, does have an angst angle. I didn't take pleasure in incorporating the element into the story. And by that I refer to the fact that I see so much joking in the author community about how we enjoy torturing our characters. The worse, the better, I hear. I'm never sure if this pride---a sort of medal of honor---in maiming and torturing is for deep impact, to make the book so shocking you can't forget it. Who knows? And I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it's just the way it is. And, sugar pie, I'm not even going to say I'll never pull that myself. My earliest and dearest mentor---a lovely Sicilian gentleman---always urged me to kill, kill. They will remember it, he said.

Angst and tragedy have been around for as long as writers have written. It's a tried and true, successful formula.

And now. To the reason I've taken a hard look---a very careful audit---of my own motives when I go the angst route.

I got hit with my personal bottom line. My big internal question.

Are my characters compelling enough, can they draw enough emotion on their own---just by being ordinary humans---without suffering additional handicaps?

In my heart, the crucial factor... 

Character depth. For me, writing a character without an external angst element---whether it be physical or mental---is almost like walking a tight rope without a net. No props to make him/her interesting. Just the naked, pure, ordinary person. Is my writing strong enough to just take an everyday Joe off the street and get to a reader's heart without wounding him?

Can he just suffer plain ol', normal heart aches like any guy and still capture a readers' heart? Depends on how powerful I can paint him.

But can I do that? Like I wondered, is my writing strong enough? Or does he need a physical ailment to grab a heart? Can he just die inside over a dame and you'll want to die with him because you love him so much?

Can he just be so very human that you relate to him just because?

Believe it or not, to carry that off is not easy. To create a character who is that strong is difficult, not to mention scary. To write him without a crutch, a 'sure thing' to grip the mind and heart. Nothing to lean on but his soul.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying physical and mental obstacles are not as real and as huge a factor in fiction as they are in real life. They are, and I use them myself. Remember, I DID tell you I use angst in my writing, too. I truly do.


I crave the challenge of trying to present an ordinary Joe who you just love to love, and cry when he cries, laugh when he laughs. And you do so because you see yourself in him, your deepest self. Not because I threw him off a cliff and injured him to tug your heart. But because I bared open his soul to you, every human bit of it. Warts and all.

He's YOU when you break up with a lover. You're not in a body cast, you're not maimed, but you hurt like hell.

He's YOU when you fall in love all over again and your heart is about to bust with the goodness of it. You're not in physical pain but you cry anyway because you hurt so good.

This quote by Gilbert K. Chesterton hit home with me: Nothing is poetical if plain daylight is not poetical; and no monster should amaze us if the normal man does not amaze.

It took a while for it to sink it to me. But then I saw it. Normal, just plain normal, is a mighty force in itself and can run very, very deep. The character is the foundation. He's got to touch us first, he has to be strong enough to make us care (or hate sometimes) all on his own. The angst should only make us bawl our guts out because it's happening to HIM, not because it's just angst.

So I wonder about my own writing. Can I make my characters that deep? Can I create a guy who---just by being a guy, a real, nothing-wrong-with-him-except-he's-100%-human guy---can still grab a reader's heart?

I'm going to put as much heart as I can into every character I write. I'm going to try to make sure they have enough human element to be recognisable to everyone who reads them. Not their faces, their bodies, their circumstances. But their souls.

Oh, sure, I'll have angst in my books, too. I like it as much as the next person. But my biggest goal will be the characters FIRST. Make them beautiful enough inside---and by beautiful, I mean nothing but pure, simple, glorious human hearts---and anything else that falls into their lives...well...


Sarah Lee said...

Everything you write has depth! Angst has many different levels, but I'm sure you gave it just the right amount. :) Big hugs and lots of love for your stories!

Unknown said...

What a heartfelt post! I enjoyed it. I find the fluffy parts harder to write, so this was very interesting to me.

Dorien Grey said...

Congratulations, Carol...a really well done, interesting and thought-provoking piece. And, on reading it, I realized that I have utilized angst in a major way in my just-sent-to-the-publisher "The Serpent's Tongue," my 15th Dick Hardesty novel. Thanks for making me aware of it.


Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

When I write, I write Can't seem to help myself. And IMO, whatever angst characters face throughout the story, make the Happily Ever After even more deserving.

Of course, there are different levels of angst, and even the most normal guy/girl experiences it to some extent. Be it a lousy day at work, cold coffee, a flat tire, rejection by a love interest, loss of a loved one, etc. Or a true dark moment.

But, whatever emotion our hero/heroine experiences only serve to draw the reader in and make the character seem more realistic.

Not sure I could write a story without some kind of upset. :) Enjoyed your post, Carol. You made me think.

C. Zampa said...

Hey, sweet sister!
I guess that's they key---the right amount. I may even have overdone it. LOL.
Love you!

C. Zampa said...

Nice to see you, Skylar.
You're right, you're right!

I, too, find the fluffier parts harder to write. Not sure why. That's why I've been thinking so hard about it. WHY is it harder to write? LOL.

Lloyd Meeker said...

Strong, thoughtful post, Carol - I agree with you that what you describe as artificial or "added-on" angst can be used as a substitute for deeper characterization. That's a powerful challenge to any author.

Must ruminate further... Before Joey dies waiting for a liver transplant, or the full moon rises, or Suzy -- who can't scream for help because she hasn't spoken a word since that terrible day in third grade -- expires at the bottom of the abandoned well.

C. Zampa said...

Dorien, I've done the same thing with my story. Utilized angst. When I tried to do some angst-for-no-reason, though, I thought..OMG..what am I doing? LOL.

It's just a wonderful mystery as to why we love it so. All the way from childhood with Old Yeller. Just the way our hearts are, I guess.

C. Zampa said...

Hey, my friend Lisa! I use it, too. When I just started to throw this 'disability' into the equation for no reason, though, I realized I was just doing it...well, I didn't know why. And that's what I didn't want to do..have contrived angst just to be having it. latest submission is an angst-o-rama. LOL

C. Zampa said...

OMG, Lloyd, I'm laughing so hard! I suppose that's the kind of angst I try not to do.

Real human suffering is everywhere, inside everyone. And it has to be written. But, like you say, we have to be careful why we're incorporating into the story.

And I wonder if I could write that well. To draw emotion with no trauma. Not sure I can.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I miss your posts. But I understand. Angst, eh? I think if a writer isn't afraid to face their demons then they are very capable of writing deep characters. For to see someone's depth is to recognize there is more than meets the eye, even to the most uncomplicated person. And to know sadness, to meet it face on, is to know the driving force behind normal human beings. (It's late *haha* and I'm rambling. I confess I've had a glass of wine)

I love your work, Carol. You're incredible.

C. Zampa said...

Joylene, I miss YOU! You understand me so well.

And you're right. It's all about the depth of them, not that I mind angst. I write it.

But I want to know the character's deepest drive before he has any angst. Sometimes, like you say, just the plain ol' person themselves might be deeper than we know.

SOOOO good to see you again, my friend.

Kristoffer Gair said...

Girrrrrl, you have a sadistic side to you, don't you? lol

C. Zampa said...

LMAO Kage! I think I do! But why? Why?
I suppose most of us writers do. Where does this come from? LOL...