Bidding Farewell to the Comfort Zone
Today is Thorsday (also known in some circles as Thursday), and as such is the day I blog about whatever strikes my fancy.
I was having a conversation with the brilliant N.E. White last night on Gchat, and we talked a little about magical realism. Which, as you might have discovered in the last week of blog posts, is the genre of my current work-in-progress.
I’ve never written magical realism before. I’ve read it. I enjoy it. But this is the first time I’ve tried to write it.
I’ve had a few people give me blank looks and ask what the hell magical realism is, which is a fair question. Here’s my own personal definition:
Magical Realism is a subset of fiction derived from literary fiction and fantasy in which the magical component is not the central driving force of the story — instead, the magic is somewhat like a blue tiled bottom of a swimming pool. It’s visible under the surface, and you can feel it if you stand on it or touch it, but it’s not going to fly at your face.
Sound rather mushy? It is. It’s one of those genres that aren’t genres, in a manner of convoluted speaking. You have the folk like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose iconic One Hundred Years of Solitude is the flagship of the entire kit-and-caboodle, and you have the delicious Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. In both novels, the magic is rather subsumed into the human stories that drive it.
A blunt, not-so-friendly way to put it is that it’s fantasy without all the whiz-bang action. “Character-driven” in the world of genre fiction writers often equates to plotless and boring (just as literary writers sometimes accuse genre fiction writers of being slaves to pointless explosions and flat characters).
Earlier today, my friend Kristin McFarland mentioned writing a scene in which her protagonist dropped a corpse on a nice clean floor, and my wistful little accompanying thought was, “I miss corpses.”
Because my current project lacks in corpses. The last book I wrote was probably the goriest thing I’ve ever written. Demon hunters, demons, and creatures who make nests of human parts — you’d have to work a miracle not to get blood all over the place writing that. But this book doesn’t have corpses. It doesn’t have blood, or swords, or explosions, or anything really more dangerous than a burst pipe in the basement.
I’ll admit, in writing it, I’ve been terrified that nothing is happening.
At the same time, though, I wanted to explore a truly character-driven form of writing. I wanted to write about normal people having normal problems (albeit exacerbated by an extraordinary sort of magic). I wanted to explore certain themes like grief and loss and tolerance for GLBTQ people through a slightly-magical lens.
This project is, in many-many-many ways, about a galaxy outside of my comfort zone.
My grittier urban fantasy novels all have a deep element of character. I’ve always striven to write characters with fully-realized emotions, motivations, reactions, and backstories. But it’s a whole different kind of demon when those characters aren’t finding their lives — or the world as a whole — threatened.
I’m not going to go into depth about this project yet, but here’s some of the central conflict:
My protagonist lost her twin brother in an accident three years before the novel begins. The novel begins with her grandmother passing and leaving her a house she doesn’t want or need. The antagonist (in a silly, verbally-spaced-out sort of way) is said grandmother’s twin sister who turns up at the most inopportune moments. Yes, twins run in their family. And my protagonist’s best friend is a lesbian woman terrified to move in with her long-term girlfriend because her arch-conservative evangelical parents regularly donate to ex-gay “ministries” like Exodus International. Oh, and there’s kittens. No, they’re not part of the central conflict.
So there’s plenty of tension and conflict to mine there. It’s making a hundred thousand words without death, carnage, or explosions just as riveting to read.
It’s really hard.
It’s really hard to write a scene when the stakes aren’t life and death but have to feel intense and compelling anyway. It’s really hard to plot a novel where plot gives way to character. It’s really hard to write something so different than anything I’ve written before.
That’s the thing about leaving your comfort zone. It can be really uncomfortable.
It can also be tremendously rewarding.
As I approach the midpoint of this book, I’m finding myself excited to write every day. In addition to that, I’ve had the fire rekindled for the planned demon-hunter series. Because let’s face it, I’m going to need some blood and guts when I’m done with this. Leaving my comfort zone both showed me that I could do something different and manage it tolerably well and reinforced the idea that I’m not confined to one particular part of writing.
A couple years ago when I saw that vampires were becoming more and more prevalent (and, by extension, starting to pop out of shady bars and circuses alike), I’ll admit I wondered what I’d write if I couldn’t write vampire stories.
I don’t have that hang-up any longer.
So my question for you, gentle viewers, is this…
How have you crawled out of your comfort zone lately? Was it terrifying? Rewarding? Exciting? Liberating? Frustrating? All of the above?
Tell us about it in the comments.
Posted on January 17, 2013, in Thorsday and tagged Arts, branching out, creativity, emmie mears, fiction, Laura Esquivel, LGBT, Like Water for Chocolate, magic, Magic realism, magical realism, Online Writing, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.