Broken in the name of art
Broken characters for many readers are a sign of familiarity. Not always, and not in their entirety. For most writers, and to bring back what I always say, it’s important to write what we know but also say in the way only we know how.
Learning to let go of those inhibitions all writers are crippled with in the infancy of their career is a tough learning curve and one that many struggle to master.
There’s always an unyielding pull toward writing what is commercially or more often, socially acceptable, which in turn becomes about censoring content and method of delivery. Without even realising, we edit ourselves on a daily basis, from what we wear and say, to how we interact between different groups of people. These skills are required to be a functioning member of society, but these skills also need to take a backseat in the world of writing.
The biggest regret I hear from fellow authors is that the finished product that ended up on their reader’s shelves is not at all what they’d envisioned. There are of course liberties a publisher can and will take to put forth the best version of work possible, but there are many instances where it’s simply about the writer being too afraid to put their real thoughts and feelings down to begin with.
In the last week I was battling with this very problem. I’d asked my husband what he thought about the two endings I had in mind for my young adult trilogy. One ending was what I thought the commercially acceptable conclusion would have been, the other was what I really wanted to write. This wasn’t the first time this conversation came up. When I was completing the Hart of Darkness trilogy, I had again asked my husband which ending would be more acceptable.
I’m not naïve in the sense that I believe everyone should completely write what they want to and disregard the rules, because rules are there to help guide us in the right direction. However, when it comes to your characters and their story, I firmly believe that their ending needs to be organic based on what you believe the ending should be.
When writing fiction, the story, the journey and the ending of course can be whatever you want it to be; there can be any element of fantasy or imagination inserted into the narrative. But remember, these characters will most likely carry some elements of you in the overall message you’re conveying to your readers. If you cannot provide them a fitting conclusion that would satisfy their cravings, have you done your due diligence as a writer?
Writing broken characters for me started as an extension of my own journal, one where I was able to dive a little deeper into the thought process that drove a lot of my daily decisions in life. The admission burned a hole in my chest for a while before I accepted it. When I did, sharing those manuscripts that I’d hidden in the deepest, darkest corners of my Mac suddenly seemed much less daunting. The thought of being so bare and honest with my readers wasn’t as terrifying as it once had been and I found myself incredibly liberated.
The notion that through my pain and challenges I could empower someone else and help them heal, initially came in the form of Ace Hart. She started out as a woman who’d grown up having had a nice life and transitioning to a woman who survived the perils of war, sexual assault and miscarriage. All of these events drew powerful parallels to my own life in various forms.
Rather than simply writing about the horror of immigrating from war-torn Yugoslavia, surviving rape many years on and miscarriage later in life, I thought I’d bring the story to life, beyond my own eyes into a character that could embody the struggle and strength that came from surviving. Through Ace’s journey anger and weakness plagued her, as I’m sure they’ve plagued many of us. But by writing the broken character trope in such a way that was undeniably true to Ace’s story, and my own, I found that the initial concern about sharing too much or being too raw, simply vanished. In its place, I found a deeper passion to tell more stories with more broken characters.
By the time the Hart of Darkness books had reached shelves around the world, I had finally found the courage to step out of Ace’s shadow and into my own spotlight. It was the first time I’d openly spoken about the sexual assault that had shaped my life. An event that had led to years of anger and depression had finally found its rightful place. Another broken character with the strength to overcome diversity was born.
Today, as my most personally challenging project Andrea Nekić is Not Fine goes through the process of my publisher’s careful gaze, I know with certainty that the story I have shared is the truest version of it. Limited self-editing, limited caution. And it’s not for the shock value or the marketability that I wrote this book, but rather the fear factor. A sort of challenge I’d given myself, one I believe I have overcome with grace, confidence and newly found courage.
The takeaway for me was simple; if someone picks up one of my books and comes away feeling something whether they’d been shaken, inspired, shocked or angered, I’ve done my job well.
I’m not here to make people comfortable, I’m here to make them think. And as an author, that is my absolute and fundamental duty.
Make it yours too. Fear nothing and go forth, paving the way.