One writer who has always stood out for me is Stephen King. That’s no surprise, since I hear he’s the world’s best-selling author. But what is it that makes his books so special? I don’t think it’s the horror; I don’t even think it’s his storytelling ability. I think it’s the richness of the characters. I first read his novel It when I was about fifteen. The book was so good that I didn’t want it to end – not because of the story but because it perfectly captured what it was like to be an eleven-year-old boy on your summer holidays. (Fifteen is kind of young to be experiencing nostalgia, but four years is a long time when you’re that age.) Of course, Stephen King is not the only author with this ability, but’s he’s the best I’ve discovered.
You might think the opposite end of the spectrum are those authors whose characters are one-dimensional and lacking in substance. Not so; at least those writers honest, even if the composition lacks detail. You see, there is something much worse. It’s the authors who compose three dimensional characters, but draw them from the wrong place. Instead of writing from the heart, they put a sham together on the page. It’s very hard for me to put my finger on exactly what I mean. It’s what you experience when you read about a charcter, and you notice that all the I’s are dotted, all the T’s crossed, but you just can’t relate to the person. The story then feels ice cold. It’s the difference between an author who is passionate about storytelling and one who is only interested in product.
Although I am a Christian, I have not specifically written for the Christian book market. I have read a little bit of Christian literature, and I didn’t like much of it. The problem of “keeping it real” creeps in too much. Maybe because the Christian always feels he should never offend anyone. That’s a noble attitude all right, but not when it makes you tell lies about human experience. Ironic how the people who have the greatest understanding of the human condition should be so poor at communicating it.
This problem of worrying over whether I offend anyone hits me with double force, because I write for the “young adult” market and I work in a school, so I have to think, “Am I saying something here that is going to make some angry parent come into my workplace and confront me?” Finding a way to write honestly about life, whilst keeping it within the bounds of good taste, is a real challenge. But if you take the easy way out and tell some glossed over farce – whether you’re doing it for reasons of taste, or because you aren’t willing for people to see the real you – every reader will see through it instantly, and you will have failed.
Tell human life like it really is – draw it from your own experience of it – and your fiction will come to life.