When I was in college at Emerson way back in the day (2003-2006), I never imagined writing a novel. Long form just wasn’t my thing. I was focused entirely on magazine writing and, to a lesser extent, online media though I didn’t think of it that way at the time.
Last night, I had a good long chat with my friend Tav about the first draft of the book I sent to her. The draft I sent her hovered around 72,000 words (eight thousand shy of the minimum word count for most adult novels), and was pretty rough. It was all the details I could think of without someone egging me on to expand in certain places or tell me if there were any glaring plot holes that one could drive a truck through. Tav gave me some of the best book-related advice I’ve ever received, and I wanted to give her a full-on internet hug today.
In all honesty, I think my book is pretty good. Marketable, certainly, and above-average in quality of writing (in that I, in comparison to many other people I’ve read recently, have a command of the English language above a third-grade level). I am also not stupid enough to think that my first draft has no problems.
A bit of the feedback I’ve gotten recently was people telling me how to make the book more like a book they would normally read. Between character motivation or relatability, I got a lot of feedback on how to make the book, well, something else entirely. Certainly a lot of it helped (the hard part about making people up is that you know everything about them so sometimes how they take their coffee seems completely natural to you, but stupid to everyone who reads the book), but I have made no bones about a few things: my characters are adults. They are professional, educated adults. They are confident, professional, educated adults.
I don’t know when it started that all books had to be about people who have no confidence whatsoever, and this trend is especially true if your main character is a woman. Are people really that insecure? If so, how sad. I have no desire to write a book about meek people. Meek people make terrible characters. Think about the characters of literature that have truly stood the test of time– from Odysseus to Jake Gatsby. They’re this big, confident, brash people– with weak spots, certainly– but they don’t start their stories as saplings. They start as sequoias. That is not to say my characters are leading tidy little lives. Lots of things go wrong and they panic and they freak the fuck out. But I wanted to write a book about adults who can assess their situation, ask for help, confront things that scare them, and may end up disappointed.
Despite my own self-inflicted dedication to a tangible realness, I had to keep asking Tav,”Yes, but is it still exciting?” as if real life or realistic characters somehow prohibited any sort of tension in the book. How goofy is that worry? Good books are about ordinary people becoming extraordinary.
I’m just really sad that nowadays “ordinary” seems to be synonymous with “weak.”