My Aunt Wanda Always Made Me Clean My Plate

Personal Notes: I am here to witness to you, my friends. You remember how your mothers begged you to eat all manner of green, possibly slimy things when you were younger, even promising you'd love them once you got older? Well, guess what? I'm older. I love Brussels Sprouts . . . after I drown them in butter.

I have a lot of relatives. By 'a lot' I mean my mom was the youngest of ten kids, and every single one of them took the Biblical directive "be fruitful and multiply" to heart hardcore, sometimes as many as five times. And since my mom was the youngest sibling, a good 98 per cent of my first cousins are old enough to be my aunts and uncles. There is too much Crazy to measure.

But first, about my Aunt Wanda. My Aunt Wanda was one of those hard-working, veggie-canning, produce farming kind of ladies, and most of the time she scared the Hades out of me. To understand this, you'd had to have met her, because part of the Fear of Aunt Wanda was the fact she had these unbelievably feline/Morticia Adams eyes. They were incredible, but super intense, and that made her stern, no-nonsense demeanor especially effective.

Aunt Wanda was not a woman who believed in wasting things. It didn't matter if you were ten or twenty, if you filled your own plate your eyes better be on the same page as your stomach because you were practically going to be licking that sucker clean. You were going to finish. I remember getting way too much for my then-40 lb. body to take in, but I sat there at the table, picking my way over my dish for two hours because Aunt Wanda had given me the Evil Eye and told me to. One way or another, I was going to see that meal through, by God! More, I was going to do it right. Aunt Wanda had three dogs, but did I get to shove off any of my unwanted food on them? Noooo. I had to do clear it myself.

Which brings me to how this has anything to do with writing. This IS a writing blog (mostly), after all. I'm writing my second novel. It's a sequel to my first novel, and by now I'm pretty tight with the mental workings of the Dionadir world. Not long ago I sort of polled my amazing, multi-national, intuitive teen beta readers about what they thought would happen next, and what they hoped would happen. Their answers kind of surprised me. They said they wanted it to get messy. People should end up broken and bleeding, emotionally speaking. The more victims, the better. One reader summed up, "I really want it to go there." She said this with an almost disturbing amount of zeal.

Wait, what? You want me to torture the people we all love? I know we all love them, because we've gushed over them together. Well, blog reader, yeah, they want me to take the characters so far out of their comfort zones they'll need a worm hole to get back.

At first I kind of recoiled at the thought. Then I recoiled at my recoil, because I remembered being a bit self-righteous on the same point when Meyer's Breaking Dawn came out and I thought she totally chickened out at the end of it. Nothing bad really happened to anyone. No one was ever in any real kind of danger. All those characters may just as well been wearing marshmallow puff suits for all the trouble they were facing, which seemed to me to be a total cop-out because the whole thing was set up to be epic.

So, okay, I kind of get it, now. Characters being your creations, you love them, and like anything else you 'birth', you don't want anything really, actually bad happening to them. The idea of causing long-lasting damage doesn't sit well. But I also know a little about forward progress and momentum. I know when a kid first learns to Karate chop a board his sensei tells him to aim for the space on the other side, not the board itself. If he concentrates on his end point being the board, he'll just break his hand. I know when a ballerina spins she must go several inches further around than what she feels is a complete turn, because if she comes out of it too early, it throws her balance off. In order to succeed, both must push the limits of what feels comfortable, and natural, and conclusive.

In writing, it feels wrong to stretch people beyond their limits, to risk snapping them. But following through is important. It's the only way to get where you want to end up.

Sometimes wrong is right.


Anonymous said...

I want it to be like in The Crucible, where things get pretty messy and very unfair for a lot of characters, only without the... death of innocent people part.

Dustin said...

Bravo. I always find that it is hard to surprise me as a reader but when that happens I feel incredibly invested. As a writer, I think it's important to build strong characters, both metaphorically and actually. This can't be done unless we are willing to put them to the test.

A reference we all know... What if Lenny Small hadn't killed Curly's wife in the barn? What if Lenny had gotten away? Worse yet, what if he had been caught and simply hauled away to jail? What if George hadn't pulled the trigger?

As a reader those events are huge, but I wonder if Steinbeck ever wondered if he was pushing things too far. Probably not.

Great post - very thought provoking.

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