Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Faculty Voices: MarshaQ

Last weekend I had the good fortune to spend time with MaryLogue and Gene Yang, MFAC faculty members past and present. Both were in Eau Claire to be part of the annual Chippewa Valley Book Festival.

While Gene was wowing a room of readers over on the local university campus, Mary was doing the same at our public library. I sat in on Mary’s session, “Cozy vs. Noir,” in which she talked about the differences in the various forms of mystery novels.

As daughter #1 and I are in the process of writing a novel together, and as said project is turning out to be a space opera murder mystery, I was an attentive listener in the room.

Mary mentioned one thing that I’d heard her say before, and it’s always stayed with me: When imagining the protagonist of what would turn into her Claire Watkins mystery series, she knew she would make her a mother because she “wanted her to be vulnerable.”

We who write for and about children don’t have to work too hard to identify how our protagonists are vulnerable—it comes with the territory of being young. Nevertheless, everyone has a specific vulnerability, and identifying it, as Mary did for her heroine, and working it can be a terrific plot and character developer.

One common point in my YA novels is that my protagonists have generally been emotionally and financially secure young women, and, for the sake of the plot, that very security is their vulnerability. How does a character behave when something is lost, either by accident or of her/his own doing? What’s the difference? How about when something is taken away?  

When I entered college during the Vietnam era, the college chaplain would invariably end services or other gatherings with his favorite benediction: “Comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable.”  

Marching orders for social justice, them words; they’re also good writing advice.

1 comment:

  1. I think about this idea a lot, but I haven't been working it into my writing yet. Yesterday I was thinking, "without desire, there is no story." The desire of the character often becomes the first thing we talk about in the craft of a great story. We haven't talked much about vulnerability when I've been tuned in. But I like this word. It really sums up a lot. I heard something the other day about how it's characters' desires that get them into trouble. I guess that is what makes them vulnerable. Really at this point, I'd be happy to create a character who was something besides vulnerable, or who had any desires at all. Right now my characters are like over warmed broccoli. So all you inkpotters: What are some "comforts" or strengths you've granted one of your characters, and where did you glean the idea from?