Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, April 06, 2018

F is for Fearless Fiction

Sometimes we writers circle around a story. We're not quite willing to face down the challenge of writing this particular story, and we're not quite ready to set it aside.

Just yesterday, a writer complained she's blocked from working on her project and can't see a way to start work again. She wants to write her memoir, but it's truly too dark and would upset family members. So she's planning to fictionalize her story and change names. She's concerned that those who know her will recognize the source of her story. Plus, she will have to confront what happened to her all over again, not an easy task. Really quite enough to scare away the muse.

I had no advice for her other than to suggest that if she wants to write a family history for others in her family, write that. But if she wants to fictionalize her story truly (and she does), simply start writing scenes. Or outline the key events in a simple outline to get started and begin getting those scenes down on paper. I'll find out next month what she decides.

I also have a novel in the drawer, already written and close to final draft. It needs maybe one or two revisions before it's ready to go, but I hesitate. Like my friend, this violent story is outside my comfort zone and not at all close to the historical fiction I typically write. In these stories, most of my characters do go to dark places shaped by history: the Industrial Revolution, class wars, economic exploitation, prison, abandonment, and sometimes abuse. I love that journey to a better place, where my characters conquer all to reach a happy-for-now ending. Isn't our human experience about struggle, to reach some sort of compromise between what fate brings us and our dreams?

An internet search brings much advice on writing fearless fiction. Natalie Goldberg's oft quoted, "Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak of," invites me to reconsider my story that's stuck in a drawer. And I'm not ready.

This morning I found an inspiring article by Carmelene Siani, "Four Simple Suggestions from a Buddhist Teacher on Living a Full Life Even When Your World Falls Apart." Ms. Siani had heard a lecture on the lessons Natalie Goldberg learned on discovering she had cancer. I found two additional articles to read and think about that may be interesting to you: Laurie Halse Anderson's “Write about the emotions you fear the most," and  Sage Cohen's "10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing."

I don't have cancer as Natalie Goldberg did, though some of my friends do. The reality is that as we get 'older than average,' we do confront death (and the process of aging) in its many, not always pleasant forms. I wonder how many more books I can write, which ones, and whether that story stuck in a file drawer will ever come out.

But each morning begins with a session at the keyboard, and I write, perhaps not as fearlessly as I could. 

May April be good to you and your writing. Today's post is for April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Why not see what others are writing about?

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