This is one of those thoughts I haven’t quite worked out just yet. I’m always looking at my writing and trying to figure out how I can improve it and what it is that my stories are missing that others have.
And I think one of the issues is that my stories are lacking enough “stage makeup.” By this I mean the difference between the makeup one wears on a normal day and the makeup one would wear on a performance stage.
My mom used to sing in a touring choir and in one of the pictures of her before a performance she has on bright turquoise eye shadow and fake eyelashes, there are bright pink splotches of blush on each cheek, and she’s wearing a shade of lipstick that really shouldn’t exist. But she needed to to be seen by her audience.
Now, as colorful a person as my mom may be at times, or has been, especially back in the ’80’s when the whole neon and matching colored makeup phase happened at the same time, she would have never ever left the house looking like she did when she performed.
Which is to say that there’s a difference between the day-to-day and performance of the day-to-day. And, in a certain sense, a book is a performance of life. Whether the world it describes is real or imagined, a book is a concentrated portrayal of that “reality.”
It needs to be MORE than real life. It needs to be real life projected at such a scale and intensity that it’s the equivalent of stage makeup.
The two examples that I think of when I think about this are Stephen King and Sophie Kinsella.
Last year I read Misery and Gerald’s Game by Stephen King. And one of the things that struck me about both books is how far King took them.
**SPOILER ALERT** In Gerald’s Game, not only is the woman alone in a cabin and tied to a bed with no idea how to get free, but she imagines that she sees someone standing in the corner watching her. And what King does, that I would never dream of doing with a story of mine (and this is what I need to fix), is make that man in the corner real.
He did the same type of thing in Misery. Bad enough to be injured in a car accident and kept in some remote location by a mentally unstable super fan. But then to have her cut off Paul’s foot AND his thumb and run a policeman over with a lawnmower and have her be a serial killer, it just takes the story to that extra level of almost implausible that I think makes King the über writer that he is.
How many writers take the risks that he does? How many writers push their stories to the edge the way he does?
It’s been a while since I read the Sophie Kinsella shopaholic books (and unfortunately Wikipedia isn’t as helpful with them as it was with King’s books), but I remember something about a helicopter rescue and the main character engaging in a series of absolutely over the top ridiculous actions to get herself out of trouble or to buy something she didn’t need. She was so extreme she was right on the edge of being a caricature (or maybe she actually was one since they are funny books).
Again, Kinsella takes her character to a level that is almost too extreme. But it works.
I don’t think it’s necessary to go as far as King and Kinsella do and there are definitely excellent novels and stories out there that don’t take such an extreme tack, but I suspect I need to go further than I do with my stories. I need to ramp things up more.
But extremes aren’t my comfort zone. So I either need to force myself to escalate things like I never have before, or I need to find a genre/audience that is more in line with what I do write.
I don’t know. Like I said. I haven’t worked this one out yet. Just thought I’d share the thought before I lost it…
Normal is boring. I agree that characters need to be extra-ordinary.
Great post! I think the most important thing is to sink so far into your story and characters, notice every detail about them (but don’t write it), and capture the details that capture you. All writers have a unique style, whether they want to or not. You will find your limits to what’s comfortable, and they are yours alone. Look at Hemingway’s simplicity, then King’s complexity, so different, both masterful. Build YOUR world over time. That’s all.