Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Inside Story - Debbie Bennett

For me, the "inside story" is the real truth, as opposed to the spin or interpretation put on it by the person telling the tale or writing the news report. The private persona rather than the public face. In writing, it can be the difference between telling and showing - although that's a whole different ball game and not one I'm going to play here; not in this post anyway. It's also where you find out what makes your character tick, what motivates them and why they feel this way.

When I first started writing my YA fantasy Edge of Dreams, I had absolutely no idea where the story was going. I really don't recommend it as a way to write, as I've written myself into more corners than a Mueller yoghurt over the past however-many years - unfortunately it's the only way I know how to be real and immediate. If I plan more than a scene or two ahead, I lose interest in what I'm doing and it shows. In Edge of Dreams, I wrote that one of my characters was afraid, but he didn't know what he was afraid of. It was true. Not just because I as the writer didn't know (although that was also true), but because he genuinely didn't know himself and it had coloured his whole life so far. As the story progressed, there came a turning point when both he and I realised the truth and at that point we had a mutual epiphany, and I knew I'd been right to sow the seeds early on. Without that insider knowledge, I'd never have been able to build the story.

I guest-posted on a blog not so long ago. The discussion topic for the month was Violence in Literature: When is Enough Enough (and I won't link to it here as it's a site with adult content in places). This took me off on another definition of the inside story: being on the inside or the outside of a scene as a reader. When I am reading a book or watching a film, if I am inside the story, living it with the characters, then the author or director can take me a lot further than if I am simply sitting there watching things happen to somebody else. It's the difference between being on the outside looking in, or being on the inside living the story - and that's largely down to the skill of the writer or director. Using the same analogy I've made elsewhere, compare the Saw film franchise with Danny Boyle's film 127 Hours. They're both essentially the same premise - what would you sacrifice to survive? - but there's a world of difference between being on the outside watching what to me is gratuitous gore (Saw) and the psychological survival inside story (127 Hours). But then the two films have very different markets, I guess, and I'm sure each has been successful in its own niche.

So make me believe the inside story. Take me into your world and I'll follow willingly. Going back to the vampires of an earlier post: make me believe Edward Cullen is real and I'll believe six other impossible things before breakfast - otherwise I'll just laugh when he sparkles and go read Nancy Baker's The Night Inside instead. I haven't read Baker for a while, but I don't recall her explicitly defining vampirism - or if she did, it was so skillfully done that I didn't notice - but her voice is believable and she effortlessly takes you into her world and makes you a part of it. Melissa Marr is another author that springs to mind - faeries, maybe, but she does them so well that you'll suspend any amount of disbelief to be there inside the story. And regardless of the genre, that to me is the mark of a really good writer.

Edge of Dreams is a YA fantasy, certified 100% vampire-and-werewolf-free. And no elves, faeries, dragons or wizards either. Not even any zombies. Anywhere.


Karen said...

Hi Debbie,

Totally agree that it's really important to get inside your character's head but I have to confess I always know where my story's going before I write it. I don't know all the 'ins and outs' but I know how my character thinks and feels, the main plot and the final ending.

Edge of Dreams sound fascinating. Good luck with it!

Debbie said...

I know my characters better than my friends or family. I just don't know where they are going because they won't tell me. I wish they would. :-)