I am researching a novel set during the Holocaust. I had never intended to write about the Holocaust, or about anything historical for that matter. History was never my favorite subject. I even liked math better. All I can say is that the subject chose me. Then it quickly overwhelmed me. The volume of information available about the Holocaust is, conservatively, infinite. I am reading five books on the topic right now.
My writing coach, in our first session, added another resource to the mix: The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book, by Susan Page. As a would-be writer, I was excited to learn how to ditch the “would-be.” I was especially intrigued by the author’s presentation of the three main categories of fiction: literary, mainstream, and genre. As a former English major, of course I wanted to write something of literary merit! But could I remotely hope to pull it off?
Literary fiction does not rely heavily on plot for its appeal, but instead on the strength and power of the writing. Characters tend to be complex and filled with nuance. Literary novels are read not so much for action as for superb writing, rich character development, and originality of vision.
I believed I could convey a unique viewpoint using decent grammar. But I didn’t know the first thing about creating psychologically rounded characters. I needed help. Three-quarters of the way through Scott Morgan’s Character Development from the Inside Out, I found myself reading about character clichés. Examples included “the rogue,” “the flaky genius,” and “the tortured artist.” Of course I would avoid these trite, stereotyped figures in my own writing! Then I arrived at the section’s final entry:
Nazis. Please, if there is nothing else you take from this book, let it be this: Don’t write about Nazis. Seriously. You can’t add anything new. Seriously. Stop writing about Nazis. A more interesting idea: Not Nazis.
The author’s strongly worded advice/plea/mandate touched on my own insecurities about the subject matter. But instead of throwing cold water in my face, it lit a fire under me. Maybe because I have so much Aries in my chart. Aries is my sun sign; I have an Aries rising; and Saturn, my north node, and my ascendant are in Aries. I don’t know what all that means, except that it’s a lot of Aries.
And Aries is a sign that welcomes a challenge.