When I started taking writing seriously and thinking “I could actually, maybe, possibly, get something published”, my mind leapt ahead to all the deep and meaningful books I could write. Books that got reviews like “Profoundly moving” and “Speaks volumes about the human condition” and “The most important book you’ll read this year”.
I wanted to write books about Issues – the real important problems facing the world. Trafficking, drugs, debt, faith, parenting (trust me, this IS a problem!), world poverty, underage pregnancy, teen alcohol addiction, war… the list could go on and on and on.
The problem is that once you start thinking about what you could write about instead of what you want to write about, it’s kind of forcing it and it doesn’t feel natural. At least, that’s what I’ve found. And what I want to write about is people.
The best feedback I’ve had on my work is when I’ve started with a character and nothing else. Not a plot, not a problem, not an issue. I don’t know if it’s my particular wiring that makes me connect better to a character and their story this way, but it does seem to be how I work, and from chats with writerly friends I’m not alone.
That’s not, of course, to say that issues have been ruled out. No serious books here thank you very much. No, it just means that I have to approach my writing in a different way. Instead of thinking, ‘How can I write about bullying?’ I would write a much better book if the character I’m engaged with happens to be being bullied. Or even being a bully themselves. Kind of, if I end up dealing with a Serious Issue, it’s a bonus and a context, rather than the reason for the book. An effect rather than a cause.
Hopefully this will also mean that if and when I do write about Serious Issues, not having to force them into my work will mean that I can treat them sensitively and with much more depth. And maybe one day, someone will actually say “Profoundly moving” about a book that I’ve written.