Finding the Power in Quiet Books or How to Write Compelling Fiction when Nothing Blows Up
This week, we welcome guest blogger Tracy Holczer who shares her thoughts on “quiet books” in a world where action and adventure attract the spotlight.
Part 1 – Digging Deep
Too Quiet for the Market. How many of us contemporary fiction writers have heard those persnickety words?
For me, this idea of quiet has always brought to mind my little girl self. You know that girl. She preferred the library to a birthday party (all those pesky people). She preferred her own brand of style (knee high socks and pink ruffled skirts in the sixth grade. Jeans were for boys). She preferred to watch instead of participate (people did the weirdest things – like eat their own hair. The discovery of which wasn’t the most popular subject of conversation. In fact, most people tended to respond to this type of observation with squinted eyes and a step backward).
Plus, noticing things like the fact that Mrs. Lemon ate her own hair during lunch–munch the sandwich, munch the hair–isn’t very heroic. Yet this is the type of girl I’m drawn to write about and stick into my very quiet story where by the end, she’s able to attend a party without breaking out in hives, and discovers that although her own brand of style is perfect and wonderful in the eyes of her mother, there is some importance in learning how to be part of a group, you just have to find the right one. And while this realization is perfectly heroic to me, it isn’t exactly larger than life in terms of story.
So how do we make our quiet stories as compelling as Harry Potter?
First, and maybe most important – Dig Deep. Come up with all the muck you can get your hands on. All that weird-kid muck. Because we may have all experienced joy and disappointment as kids, but only you can bring your own slant to it. Let go of your ordinary homogenized self, the part of you that has been groomed and plucked into a reasonable member of society. Give yourself permission to exist in the imperfection of your past. There is a reason no one wants to go there, and that’s because it hurts. But if you don’t bring that hurt to the page, if you don’t face the very things in your own past that you are expecting your reader to face, they will know, and they won’t believe your story.
I think when people say “write what you know,” this is what they mean. Write what you know–about longing and disappointment, joy and family–into the hearts of your characters. That is where we are all the same. Give the kids reading your stories the understanding that weird-kid muck is what makes us special and that it isn’t something to be discarded, but something to be treasured. Make them feel like they can take on life with all its mess. They will love you for it.
I do have a few more ideas, the next being how to make your quiet story more compelling through the use of character details. Tune in tomorrow for part 2.
Guest Blogger Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband and 3 daughters, but has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up so she writes them into her stories. Her debut novel, THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY, will be published by Penguin Children’s Books in Spring 2014.