Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can You Handle The Truth?

I have a confession to make.

It’s not a pretty one. You may even wrinkle your nose and shake your head at me as you’re reading this. But it’s okay, you can judge me. I certainly deserve it.

Okay, here it is…the truth…

The current manuscript of Canary that landed me an agent is nothing like the version I started to submit to agents. I sent out what I like to call my PG version of my story last year. It was full of the stuff that Disney movies are made of. It was something you’d see on the Family Channel.

My new version, however, is entirely different. It might not be shown on network TV before ten p.m., it may require a parent’s permission at the theater if you’re under the age of thirteen, and it may even stir up a little controversy and make parent groups angry (well, hopefully just the groups that don’t open the book and give it a chance).

And you know what, this is the version that I love.

You see, when I started writing the book about two years ago, I thought too much about what adults who read the book might say. I held back with my writing and the story. I restrained my character and wasn’t true to my vision or her actions. That’s a dangerous path to walk on, because in a sense, I was censoring my story. I was cheating my characters, my voice and most importantly, my readers.

I was lucky, though. I had an awesome reader who realized that the story I was telling was deeper than what was on the paper. She saw that there was more going on with Kate, and she pushed me to explore what it was. I worked all summer long on revising the book (yay for being a teacher and having the summer!). Those weeks were hard because my main character Kate took me to some dark places. I stuck right beside her, though, and worked through her pain so she was able to triumph in the end.

What I need to realize was that I wasn’t writing my book for the critics, I was writing my book for the teen readers, and I’m embarrassed to think about how I was one of those potential “critics” who may not believe my readers could handle the truth.

There’s something to be said for telling the truth in writing and not shying away from tough topics. Bad things happen in life. It’s pointless to create a world where everything is butterflies and rainbows (although if there’s a unicorn in this world, I may love it!). Some of my favorite books deal with very tough issues, and I love the books because they do show life.

I may end up with critics or people who don’t like how truthful I may be, but I don’t care, because I want to tell Kate’s story best story that you can. I may have been silent about a lot of things in my first draft, but now I can say with confidence that Kate is truly getting her story told now in Canary.

What do you think? Is it important to be truthful? What are some downfalls to this type of writing? What books do you feel follow this philosophy?


Kristan said...

I'm so glad you decided to revise Kate's story to be more truthful and hard hitting -- I can't even imagine this story being successful unless you were willing to go all the way with it, you know?

After a long internal struggle, I've decided to commit to a "hard hitting" rewrite for one of my manuscripts too. I kept censoring myself because I was worried about what a certain person in my life would think, and now I realize that it doesn't matter. And I know the story is going to succeed (at long last!) now that I am not holding back any punches.

Fortunately my friends and family have always been supportive of my writing, no matter how "disturbing" it might be. (My mom did ask me once in high school if I needed/wanted to see a psychologist, though! :P)

Karla Calalang said...

Wow, this is great Rachele! I enjoyed reading this a lot. I'm glad you uncensored Canary.I can't wait until it's published! It's going to be so great, I know it! Although I didn't get a chance to even finish reading your PG version, I'm so glad I got a chance to see a part of Kate's life.

As for your questions, I do think it is so important to be truthful. You have to be able to show readers the real world the character lives in, and like you said, it can't be full of butterflies and rainbows. I can't think of a downfall besides what people in your life will think as you have said. I once read this book called Born Blue by Han Nolan. I really enjoyed this book because it showed a great deal of honesty. That's the only one that really comes to mind, and I read this 6 years ago when I was 12! It goes to show how much it affected me if I still remember it. I even remember the images I thought of 6 years ago.

Awesome post, and good luck with Canary!

Kaitlin Ward said...

What an awesome post!

I've censored myself before, without really thinking about it. It was more of a "what would my mom think if she read this??" type of thing, though, for me.

And I've written things that are pretty PG because, well, that's just how they are. Not everything is dark and scary, but when it needs to be, it needs to be, and I'm glad you went for it. And glad it landed you your agent!

Melissa said...

I think it's very important to stay true to the story and, thus, honest. Not everyone will love it, and it might even offend some people, but in the end the story will be better for it.

My MS is YA, but there are elements that may not be the most acceptable for younger readers. I almost removed them, but my beta reader told me if I did so, the story would lose vital elements that drive the characters.

I'm really glad that your agent stands wholeheartedly behind your MS...that's brilliant and very positive. Good luck with Canary! :)

Lee Bross said...

When I tried holding my characters back because of what I thought was acceptable and not acceptable, they suffered. The story was flat.

As soon as I gave them free rein, no matter how uncomfortable I thought it might make some people (And really, I needed to get over my fear that it wasn't acceptable in YA too)the story exploded and the characters came alive.

Listen to what they tell you and write the story they want. If you put your heart into it, it can be nothing less than brilliant! :)

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

I think this is a great post that so many beginning YA writers really need to read. There's a notion among adults that YA books don't contain "adult themes" ... obviously we've all forgotten what it was we were reading as teenagers! My public school required freshman English classes to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Black Boy after those two everything else I read seems light and fluffy! Okay, those books weren't YA books, but I was reading them at the same time that I was reading Madeline L'Engle who was YA and who was dealing with every adult theme that I could conceive of as a teenager. Teenagers and adolescents -- particularly those wtih cable TV -- understand a lot more about the world than some writers are willing to give them credit for.

Glad you un-censored yourself!

AchingHope said...

I think it's really important to be honest. And I think that most people will be grateful you were completely honest to your characters!

I always written about the "darker side of life." My parents were concerned, because when I was little I wrote a story about a kid with abusive parents (I was like, six years old), but that's just because that's how life is. There's aches and there's hopes and it's all mixed in.