Today I’m beginning a new blog series called, On Writing. It will feature guest posts by fellow torkidlit authors expressing their heartfelt responses to the question, “What, about writing, is most important to you?” Within these posts you’ll uncover hidden gems, and glimpses of the real people behind some of the books you love. (And some of the new and new-to-you books you will love.)
My first guest blogger is Cheryl Rainfield. Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing.
Some Ingredients You Need For a Powerful Novel
by Cheryl Rainfield
I write about issues I deeply care about–abuse, oppression, healing, being queer. I can’t do otherwise–they’re things I *need* to write about. But I also think that it’s a smart choice if you want your work to resonate with people.
I think readers can sense the passion and emotional honesty that goes into writing something you care about, and I think they respond to that. Almost two years after SCARS was published I’m still getting reader letters every week from teens (and adults) who tell me how much SCARS moved them, how it made them feel understood, turn their life around, or help them. They write about how it felt like I was writing about them, their life, their girlfriend, or how they understand someone they love better now. They write to me intimately, like I already understand (and I usually do). I think what they’re responding to is the passion and emotional truths in my work, because I write about things I care about so much.
But I also write about something I needed to give voice to, something I needed to be heard about, needed to break silence about. I think that’s another important ingredient to writing fiction that reaches people–figuring out what it is you really need or want ot say, and infusing that into your work.
I also intentionally put compassion, hope, and healing into all my books; it’s important to me to make a positive difference in the world. I know that’s not every writer’s focus or goal, and some people speak out against having a “message” in a YA book. But I don’t believe that you can write *anything* without it having your opinion, slant, or world view in it, even when you’re trying to write it in a balanced way. And I think it’s actually a good thing to share our world view, most especially if we think it can help in some way. I also personally wouldn’t want to spend so much time and energy writing, editing, then promoting a book that I don’t care about. To me, that would feel empty. And as a writer, you have a chance to have your voice be heard. Why not wirte about something that matters to you?
In every one of my books, my main characters are strong-girl characters. Kendra from SCARS manages to fight threats, conditioning, and trauma to identify her abuser and bring some justice. Caitlyn from HUNTED consistently stands up against the great oppression against Paras, and tries to help anyone who needs her help, even when it puts her in danger. And Sarah in STAINED (forthcoming from Harcourt in 2013) fights back against her abductor–physically and psychologically–and finds a way to rescue herself. I love strong-girl characters, and I think it’s important that as girls and women we have positive, strong reflections back, to help counteract some of the sexist and weak images we constantly get baraged with in movies, TV, video. So it’s always something I include (and I wouldn’t want to write a girl character any other way). And, as a lesbian in a homophobic world, I always includue a queer character in my books (as long as I can), even if they’re a secondary character. I think it’s so important for LGBTQ youth (and adults) to have positive reflections–and *enough* reflections. But it’s also important for heterosexual people to read and absorb that queer people are normal, just a part of life, and likely someone they know. These things are very specific to my own worldview and what deeply matters to me; you’ll have your own values. Find what you care about and include it.
And, with every novel, I think it’s important that we write entertaining books that teens want to read. A message can be woven throughout story–I think it’s in every great story–but it has to be a well-crafted story that entertains the reader, makes them think and feel.
Writing what you care about will come through to your readers, and they’ll respond. I hope you write what your heart wants to write.
Cheryl Rainfield is the author of SCARS (Top 10 ALA Best Books for Teens, GG Literary Award finalist) about Kendra, a queer sexual abuse survivor who cuts herself to cope and must face her past; HUNTED (just out) about Caitlyn, a telepath in a world where it’s illegal to have any paranormal powers who is on the run, and must decide if she’s going to stay in hiding to protect herself or take a stand to save the world; and STAINED (Harcourt, 2013) where Sarah, a teen with body image issues, is abducted and must find a way to rescue herself. Cheryl draws on her abuse and trauma experience to write her books, and writes from the heart.