I’ve been working on a scene for a week or so. One of those pivotal ones, one of the big ones. A major turning point type of scene, in which my main character, Dr Isabel Knight, comes across the body of one of my villain’s victims, for the very first time.
I sweated bullets writing this scene. And when I was done, I sat back and discovered I’d totally wimped out.
In essence (and skipping a few spoilerish nuances) all my character did was the standard find the body, react (which boiled down to her freaking out), the police appear and she’s suspected of the murder.
So I’ve mulled it over. And realised I went with the easy, top-of-my-head option with this scene. Why? Partly because I’m very squeezed for writing time at the moment, so I spend my teensy bits of free time working on my revisions, forgoing the thinking and pondering time necessary to let the subconscious work its magic.
But I think the real reason I wrote what is essentially a very safe-option scene is plain old fear. See, I always had a bit of an inkling in the back of my mind about what my main character just might actually do – an inkling that grew into a full-blown, slap-in-the-face, realisation once I did step away from the keyboard and think about it.
So, I now know exactly what my MC would and should do in this scene (and no, sorry, I’m not going to tell you what it is, or why she does it, because (a) I’m sure a ten page post on the inner workings of my character’s mind (and my mind!) is not what you’re here to read, and (b) I think every lady needs to be a little mysterious, don’t you? LOL)
But for a day now, I’ve still been too scared to write it.
The scene I have envisioned is … well, a little disturbing. And what’s twisting my gut in a knot is worry – if I do this, will I have gone too far? What if readers are turned off by my character and what she does? Should I not write it, and stay with the safer option?
After another round of pondering and navel gazing, I think I have the answer.
Stories pushed over and beyond the limits stick in readers' minds. Think of those who regularly venture where others don’t – Stephen King and Thomas Harris, yes, they push both the fear and the ick factors, but my goodness, do I remember those books. And then the likes of Isabelle Allende and Louis de Bernieres, or Joanne Harris, and the supernatural and just plain “out there” elements of their books that, for me, make their stories so memorable. Books by authors who strike out into dangerous or uncharted territory stick in my mind long after the cover is closed for being amazingly creative and original, for going off the beaten path and surprising me, for unsettling me. And aren’t these the reactions we novelists want our readers to experience?
Why, then, are we (I) afraid to write like that?
So I’ll be rewriting that scene. My little life-rope, if indeed I have gone too far, is that I can always change it. Phew.
How about you? Do you worry you play it too safe? Or do you quite happily play with the matches?