The first big hurdle I’ve faced has been whether the idea or message behind my novel is important enough to battle through months, years even of rewrites and edits. Some writers don’t struggle with this, believing that the story itself is more important than some didactic moral.
I recently asked this question of bestselling author of ‘Chocolat’ and ‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ Joanne Harris who visited Singapore last year and was posed this question in an interview with Swag, an online literary journal.
You can find the interview here:
I liked her answer which was that her work could be read on many different levels and interpreted differently depending on her readers so it wasn’t up to her dictate how it was read. This, I think, is the mark of a great writer, whose work can resonate with people from different backgrounds. Certainly, when there is truth to the character’s journey then that is what truly matters, but at the same time, the ideas and opinions expressed and whether they are challenged or accepted – where do these all come from? Authors are not simply conduits who transfer stories to their readers, like photographers capturing images. Even in a third person narrative, there is irony, sarcasm, empathy and zeal.
Anyway, I digress. Is it good enough to write a story with twists and turns, cliffhangers and climaxes, if there is no POINT to it? Shouldn’t the reader come away thinking about something? Without this, the aim then is simply to shock or titillate, like the musical number in the opening scene of ‘La-la Land’ – grand, colourful but pointless. And so, forgettable.
The point doesn’t always have to be a socio-political one. Think of ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier – there may be no comment being made on say the role of women in society, but boy does it get under your skin and pinpoint the fear of living in another woman’s shadow.
Sometimes novels hit you over the head with their issues without capturing your heart or making you fall in love with their protagonists. Then they become more essays then fiction. This clearly is not the goal for The Painted Ladies. My challenge in writing a story about three women struggling in Singapore is the fight against being pigeonholed as ‘Chick Lit’ – light, vacuous and unimportant. Their issues are important – sexism in the workplace, a crumbling marriage, shopping addictions and low self esteem. Crafting a page turner that touches on issues that resonate with my readers, this is challenge no 1.
Link to Series Intro ‘Writing a novel…The Challenges’