When I start a new novel, one of the first things I do is write a one- or two-page proposal. It includes my working title and a movie-style pitch (Willy Wonka meets Jack Bauer – that’s not my pitch, but maybe it should be. A kick-arse chocolatier? Hmmm...). I also create a short synopsis and brief character sketches for my main characters. And I include a few lines about why I feel compelled to write this story. What will keep me interested for the next months and, if it’s published, maybe the rest of my life?
So in my initial musings on what I’ll affectionately call Book3, I noted that my main characters would uncover plans for a horrifying and-yet-to-be-determined event. I wanted said-event to be original, shocking and significant. I considered an idea that came to me after 9/11 – a type of terrorist attack. (An idea that I can’t bring myself to mention in this blog for fear of giving budding terrorists any new nasty ideas.) Beads of sweat began to form on my forehead. Even if I had something interesting to say, a compelling story, and a new twist -- did I really want to add to the culture of fear and violence?
I'm not sure I can write that book.
|Photo by Kristin Smith|
Writing edgy fiction for teens can be a tight rope walk. I want to write authentic, issue-based stories that ask difficult questions, but another part of me feels a sense of responsibility to protect my teen readers.
Unlike writing fiction for an adult audience, I’ve also got a series of gatekeepers who stand between me and my reader. Even if I’m comfortable with the issues and antics in my story, teachers, librarians and parents might not be.
And it’s not always the big issues that can off-set this delicate balance. What about characters that don’t wear seatbelts or condoms, smoke cigarettes or drink to excess? I’ve got great ideas for silly pranks that might not always turn out well. I have an obligation to readers to write the most honest and interesting story I can. But I must admit I sometimes feel the desire to write “don’t try this at home”.
The bottom line for me: I’m a storyteller – not my readers’ parents, teachers or ministers. My job is to keep them engaged in the story and, I hope, make them think about something in a new or interesting way. But I have limits and so do my gatekeepers. Writing on the edge is about striking a balance – while remaining true to yourself and your story.
Anyone fancy a tango on the high wire? I think it might be easier than figuring out Book3...
DARK PARTIES -- a dystopian novel for young adults -- by Sara Grant will be published by Orion in October. Find out more about Sara and her book at www.sara-grant.com.