E.J. Wesley is a writer /blogger I met online via one of the blogfests we both participated in, the famous A to Z April Blog Challenge. His blog, The Open Vein, is about being a writer, living the writing life, and suffering…yes, writers do suffer. Trust me on this.
E.J. describes himself on Facebook as an unapologetic nerd. He’s the author of Blood Fugue, Moonsongs – Book 1, a paranormal action series with a Texas twist.
Oh $#@% My Mother is Going to Read This by E. J. Wesley
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
What great wisdom for any aspiring author to heed, and I’ve certainly tried. No, trying implies doing something until you’re satisfied or tired. I’ve WORKED at it. I wasn’t giving up until the task was completed, until the job was done, and the boss (reader) was happy.
And there was no greater challenge in my writing development than learning how to let a character speak truly for themself. Basically, when I began writing I was just a puppeteer, my characters would do and say as I made them do and say, nothing else.
For me, to remove my own filters, to slap aside my grandiose story plans, and simply let a character exist and react on the page was a study in complex simplicity. Telling a story is what a writer does, after all. Simple. But you’re not really telling a story, you’re living it—in someone else’s head. Complex.
So when the breakthrough came, and I’d finally created the dynamic, unpredictable character of my dreams, I rejoiced. Authentic characters had been the elusive, missing ingredient in my writing recipe. I had fun plots, ensemble casts, good descriptions—all the biggies. But the stories were bland, like I’d prepared a fine meal and left out the salt.
Now, I had it. My leading lady was an angry mess who swore too much and played too many video games. She was flawed, and tackled life in just about every way I wouldn’t. And I loved her! More importantly, so did the readers. That’s when I knew I’d done something.
My confidence as a writer soared. I began to see my stories in a stronger light. Heck, I could finally stand to look at them with the lights on. So I did the author equivalent of taking my shirt off at the beach, and put my writing out into the world. I didn’t care if my flab and freckles showed, I knew there would be people who would love the character just they way she was.
Then my mother told me she had downloaded the book and was excited to read it…
ME: “Mom, you might not like it.”
MOM: “I’m sure I’ll love it.”
ME: “This isn’t like that handprint, paper plate turkey I made you in second grade. You probably won’t want to put this on your fridge, or show it off at the ladies church luncheon.”
MOM: “Why not?”
ME: “Well, it has some colorful language in it. The main character is a little rough around the edges.”
MOM: silence “I thought you were writing children’s stories.”
ME: “I’ve written a couple of YA stories, but this one is for adults.”
MOM: “I’m sure it’s not language I’d use.”
ME: “Probably not.”
MOM: “Well, I’m going to read it anyway.”
ME: please don’t disown me “I hope you like it.”
That was a long couple of days, waiting to hear back from her. In the end, she never brought up the language. She bragged about my aunts who had called to tell her they’d read and enjoyed it. She commended me on pulling her into the story, and the breakneck pacing. And she did what she has always done: encouraged me to keep going, and told me I should be proud, because she was.
In the end, I learned a couple of things. 1) Never underestimate a mother’s ability to overlook flaws and see only what she loves. 2) In writing, being true to your characters is risky.
You give away some control, which is terrifying to face when you’re learning to write. It’s like riding a bicycle without training wheels for the first time. There’s no telling where you’ll end up—and bruised and on the ground seems the most likely destination.
But a character, who might say or do anything even if you—or your mother—wouldn’t, becomes a person. And that’s worth reading about.
Thanks, E.J. It is amazing how vulnerable we can be when we write with Mom looking over our shoulders. I’ve experienced that feeling as well.
For more information about E.J. and his writing, including the novel Blood Fugue, please visit his blog, The Open Vein. You can also find him on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter (where he sponsors the weekly New Adult Twitter Chat at #NaLitChat.
And now, for your added viewing pleasure, here’s the book trailer for Blood Fugue: