Saturday, January 12, 2008

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone - Pt. 2

Okay, in my last post, I talked about comfort zones and some of the rules associated with writing romance novels. Writing about the same thing over and over is boring not only for the reader, but also for the writer. At least, it is for me.

So, it's time to think about comfort zones and writing outside of them.

Now, I'm no expert - I only know what works for me. For me, my comfort zone is a familiar time period, with familiar scenarios. I tend to write fairly light - nothing too dark or disturbing. I like to think there are several comfort zones - characters, plot, conflicts, themes. For this post, I will deal with characters.

I've written three books that take place during the late Georgian/early Regency period. My characters come from decent families, happy and loving families. Generally, the only darkness comes from the conflict between the hero and the heroine.

My fourth book is a little darker - it's set during the 17th century and the heroine is a runaway slave. During my research for that book, I learned a lot more than I really wanted to, and some of it was downright depressing. But it was necessary, because I was tired of writing happy people who just end up in some mildly unhappy situations.

For Eden's Pass, I had to really explore the heroine, to find out what made her tick and what compelled her to do what she did in order to get the story going. She was complex because of her past, and what she'd been through, and it wasn't easy getting into her skin because she'd been through a lifetime of unpleasantness. The deeper I delved, the darker she became, and I had to find a way to work that darkness into the story, without making the story too depressing. It is a romance novel, after all, and she deserved some happiness.

That was writing outside my comfort zone. Dealing with issues and topics I'd never dealt with before, and that bothered me to a certain extent. It also came into being with the hero, who had an equally dark past, only for a different reason.

Writing outside a comfort zone is not always easy - but it absolutely enriches a story because it forces the author to dig deeper into the characters. Writing what you know and are comfortable with is easy, because it's like traveling a familiar route. Not to say that it diminishes a story in any way, but perhaps it just isn't as good as it could be. I found that, in writing Eden's Pass, there were facets to my characters that I might not have noticed, had I not had to dig so deeply into them. They became more complex, and their conflicts more sharply defined. It added intensity to the story and, in the end, I think they are some of the best characters I've ever created.


Nita said...

I wonder if that's what Danielle Steele did? After all, some of her books were extremely dark in places, and not all of them had HEA. (darn, wish I could remember the one I'm thinking of that ended almost sadly.)I bet you did make EDEN'S PASS, richer and deeper when you went outside your comfort zone to write it.

Oh yeah, good luck teaching the girl to ride her bike.

Kim said...

I've only ever read two of Steele's books - one dealt with an abused child who ended up being raised by nuns, was on her way to becoming a nun, and fell in love with priest who killed himself. The other dealt with one of the character's sons comitting suicide - and both were fantastic books. The endings were both bittersweet - but the books themselves were quite powerful. I think it's that darkness that makes them so powerful. It's easy to be happy, but takes a complex character to survive...

Thanks - so far the girl's not doing so well... but I haven't given up hope. =)