Tuesday, April 24, 2007

R.I.P & Kiss My

Write like your momma is dead.

This was one of the first pieces of advice Jodi Thomas gave me back in the very first creative writing class I took after I decided that I wanted to become an author. At the time I chuckled along with the rest of the class and didn't think to much about the statement. But over the years I've come to realize all that this statement means.

It's not just your momma you have to clear from your mind. It's your spouse, your friends, maybe an entire race, culture or group of people. Now I'm not condoning writing something just for the sake of attacking a group of people. There are manifestos of hate that are put out for the sole purpose of belittling somebody else. I'm talking about being true to your characters, even those that you do not like or agree with.

In Mark Twain's time some labeled him a racist for his prolific use of a specific racial term in Huckleberry Finn. Now there is a brand new novel out called Finn by an author named Jon Clinch, which explores the life of Pap Finn, Huck's dad. I haven't started the novel yet, but I've read some reviews and comments elsewhere that ridicules the author for using the same term as Twain. To me, the author would have done a disservice to both his story and Twain's if he softened the story, chose not to use follow Twain's lead and, make Pap a vile man. I for one can't wait to read the novel and I certainly don't think that makes me a racist. I expect going in not to like Pap, but I believe there is a lot to be learned by taking a close look at at any society's "bad seeds." Not sure who first coined the phrase If nothing else I can serve as a bad example but I do think there is a good bit of truth in those words. All parents have said something along these lines, Yes, you have to go to school. You don't want to end up like your cousin Joe do you?

And as I heard an agent say one time at a conference, If you're writing doesn't piss somebody off, you're not writing strong enough to really reach anybody.

So write it the way the character would say it or do it, not the way your mother, friend or spouse would expect from you. After all, you're telling a fictional characters story not your own. Otherwise, you are writing a memoir, but then again, there have been some who couldn't even be true to their character when writing about themselves. Of course that didn't stop them from selling a million copies, or being appearing on Oprah.

2 comments:

Bluefingers said...

Hmmmm.... This speaks a little close to what I needed to hear.

Thank you.


;)

Maisie said...

Well written article.