Friday, May 27, 2011

Your Truth Isn’t Necessarily Someone Else’s Truth

So getting straight to it, let me ask you, what’s the biggest challenge you face as a writer? Is it coming up with the hook? Is it finding a distinct voice? Is it figuring out who your main character really is – what they want most, what they fear most?

I discovered my arch-nemesis a long time ago, and I’m still having problems overcoming it: It was learning that my truth is not necessarily someone else’s truth.

I thought that because I believed something, everyone else would understand where I was coming from.
For instance, I once wrote a story with negligent, somewhat-mean parents.  Someone else read my book and said, “Miranda, I just can’t believe anyone’s parents would treat them that way!”

And I just didn’t get that. I feel like I see stories about neglectful parents in the news every day. Then I started thinking about where my reader comes from: A good stable home and a solid upbringing.

The truth is, not everybody comes from the same place, so everyone’s “reality” is different.

So how do you bring readers in so they “buy” your story?

This is where setting and background are crucial. If you want your readers to believe your main character’s circumstances, you must show a complete picture.  

Let’s look at Harry Potter. From the very first page, J.K. Rowling made it very clear that Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are quite conservative and set in their ways. Mr. Dursley is described as wearing “his most boring tie.” His main concern in life is a shipment of drills. Young people who dress funny get on Mr. Dursley’s nerves. We also find out that Mr. Dursley doesn’t like his wife’s family – because they are wizards.

Even if they weren’t wizards and were punk rockers, Mr. Dursley would dislike the Potters.
Based on this set-up, the reader should “buy” how the Dursleys treat Harry after he gets left on their doorstep. As he grows up, they make him live in the cupboard under the stairs and make him wear hand-me-down clothes.

When you’re writing, how do you work to “show” your main character’s circumstances?

As a reader, what sorts of details help you to “buy” the story?   


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