Funny how connections can be made.
I’m deep in editing Revenge, and part of the time, I feel good about how the novel progresses. Other times, however, doubts pop up: Will readers think the story works well? Will they want to read it?
In these moments, I go back to a conversation between Neil Gaiman and his agent about his doubts that readers will care about his book. (The conversation is in a 2014 post about my doubts.) Revisiting that conversation helps me, because the agent tells Mr. Gaiman that all her clients have doubts about their books.
While doubts have come with all my stories, they’ve been stronger with Revenge. Maybe that’s because it’s my longest stand-alone book. So there’s more story in Revenge to mull over it working or not.
The other reason behind my doubts is that the main character is a woman, and she goes through separation and divorce. That’s not a spoiler alert, since those events happen early in the book. The revenge is about why the woman leaves her husband.
The book is written in third person, not first, and the story spans several months in the life of the female character (Michelle Brower). That brings up the particular doubt: As a man who’s never been divorced, can I appropriately write about a main female character who has?
And that’s where the connection came up.
Because the upcoming Oscars made me remember that actors assume roles all the time. A role could be similar to an actor’s background. Or the role could be quite different. The character could be from another culture, another economic class, another time in history. Could be a character with mental illness. Then actors are judged on how well they portray characters, and some are nominated for Academy Awards. (I won’t go into which actors I think deserve nominations.)
Actors aren’t the only ones assuming roles. Of course, us writers do it, too. And some male writers have written popular female characters. Stephen King created Delores Claiborne, who uttered the great line: “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.” Stieg Larsson came up with the powerful character of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and the next two books of the series). The list can go on and on.
This isn’t to say that my writing is as good as King and Larsson. Nor is it to say I’m as successful as movie actors in my writing. But keeping them in mind helps me push back against the doubts.
Also helpful is remembering that writing fiction is based on imagination. Without imagination, how could authors write science fiction and fantasy? Not all characters should look like the reflection in the author’s mirror. We can write characters similar to ourselves, but it’s interesting to leave our shoes and try on someone else’s.
That’s also a strength of reading books. By reading, we can inhabit someone else’s life. Be they from another culture, economic class, gender, time in history, and so on. We can live as them for a little while. We can learn from that experience.
And that’s along the lines of writing a variety of characters. It’s good to get out there and stretch in writing. Even when the stretching causes doubts in us authors.