Writing with complete honesty is one of the hardest things for fledgling authors of teen novels to achieve. They worry about their name being attached to the story – even though it is fiction and it will be the characters doing the action and speaking the dialogue, not them. I’ve heard statements from beginning writers such as – readers will think I support what the characters do and say.
In my opinion, a writer needs to cut loose from anything resembling these feelings. They will only weigh you down and stop your work from evolving. I had to deal with this issue when I wrote several books which touched upon racism and hatred in our society. Black and White, Response, Rooftop, Rikers High, and Crossing Lines are all novels that I’ve written which have characters that espouse ugly ideas and brutal language. But if you try to couch your story and not show the way teens really act, or how they can act, during their worst moments, then your story will probably ring hollow.
When I decided to write Rikers High, a novel about a place in which I worked for six years, honesty came into play in a different way. Just some background: Rikers Island is the biggest jail in the world. There are high schools there for teens who can’t make bail and are awaiting trial in the court system. The novel shows an inmate demographic that is heavily black and Hispanic, because that matches the real demographic of Rikers Island. Incidents in the novel involving students/inmates with their teachers and correction officers are all a reflection of what I had really witnessed while working there. After the novel was published, some teachers and officers I worked with felt they recognized themselves and things that they had done, both good and bad. Needless to say, many were unhappy with my honesty. I lived with the ramifications and never regretted it. That novel accurately reflects six years of what I saw happening on Rikers Island.
I found it really interesting when a writer whom I had never met dedicated a YouTube video to the honesty in Rikers High. That video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVmalLRRlKE
So every time you reread your story, there are several basic questions you need to continually ask:
1. Have I passed up on writing any scene that, in my heart, I know should be included in my story?
2. Do my most dramatic scenes fall short of an honest portrayal because I’m worried about what people will think about my views or sensibilities?
3. Does the dialogue I’m using truly represent what real people would say (including curse words) in tense situations?
4. Was I honest with myself and my fiction?
You should always be honest and brave in your writing. That way your fiction will represent real life. There is no higher standard that that.
Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com
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