Today I was pondering my next YA. I'm working on a middle grade now, so I'm just knocking around ideas for this in advance. I want it to be a companion for the last YA I wrote, which was the darkest, creepiest thing I have written to date. The hardest thing I've written, too. I realized that in a lot of scenes, I was shying back. I don't want to spoil you on that book, so let me tell you about a scene that was hard to write in Magic Under Glass.
(Stop reading now if you haven't READ Magic Under Glass and don't want to be spoiled!)
It was the scene where Nimira sees clockwork man Erris with his face appearing perfectly human but his skin removed, so all his clockwork innards are visible, and the villain is twisting his key, hurting him, and forcing him to speak in front of people who see him as somewhat of a monster.
I've had quite a few people say, "I loved Magic Under Glass! Especially that scene where..."
It's always that scene.
And I feel a certain relief and say, "I love that scene too." Because I DO. But it was hard to write. Not because I felt bad for Erris. Nope. Because I LOVE TORTURING HIM SO MUCH.
But I never really thought about that consciously. I just realized I shy back from a certain kind of scene. And today I had a revelation as to what that sort of scene is. I think it's a marriage of something positive--like love or bravery--with something disturbing.
In the Hunger Games, for example, I think part of the reason these books are such page turners is because Katniss's strength and bravery is paired with the brutal deaths of so many people all around her. It is so unflinching. But one of the very best examples of it, I think, is the Queen of Attolia. (So, more spoilers if you haven't read that.) In the beginning of the book, the Queen of Attolia cuts off the hand of the protagonist, Eugenides. This is unflinchingly described, too, and Gen has to deal with all the aftermath--pain, humiliation, having to learn to do things over again, never being able to do certain things... This is compelling enough but what really makes it memorable is that he then FALLS IN LOVE with the Queen of Attolia.
And as a reader, this is precisely what I want to happen. This exquisite combination of pain and love is a rush to read. As a reader, I adore it, even though for some reason I feel perhaps, a little ashamed. Why am I so delighted by such circumstances? In real life I wouldn't find it exciting at ALL if me or one of my friends had their hand cut off and then fell in love with the person who had done it! But as a reader, it also doesn't matter if I find strange, uncomfortable situations delicious. It isn't like the whole world is reading with me, measuring my heart rate. Nor do I think, "Goodness, this Megan Whalen Turner is certainly twisted!" It's not like the Queen of Attolia is some kind of crazy erotica novel or full of gratuitous violence.
As a writer, however, it feels different. It feels uncomfortable to be sharing with the world something that is deliciously painful. It feels like...well, I shouldn't enjoy it TOO much. If I do, I am probably going too far! ANYBODY could read this and go, "Goodness, this Jaclyn Dolamore is certainly twisted!"
With my last book, I kept pushing myself to go farther. To make things more horrible. To describe unpleasant sights and conflicted, shiver-inducing emotions in more depth. I sensed my discomfort but I pushed past it because I kept thinking, "The book will be more memorable for it." But it was...surprisingly hard, actually. I didn't really realize why until I was thinking about it just now. I also didn't quite realize until just now why that made the book more compelling. It was more of a subconscious thing.
I guess that Jaclyn Dolamore is a bit twisted. And people seem to like my writing better for it.
I was thinking today maybe this feeling in writing is kind of like the flavor "umami". The savory flavor that we didn't quite have a name for and didn't quite realize we needed...