In an earlier blog post I announced that I was taking a second crack at my first novel, Bride of Dunloch. After nearly three years since it was first released, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve gained a following and I’ve gained a publisher. I’d like to turn my Highland Loyalties trilogy (of which Bride of Dunloch is the first installment) into a full-length novel, with an expanded storyline. I think it’s the right time.
In doing so, I find myself in a very difficult position. You see, my heroine, Jane Sewell, is a young English lady, married to a baron nearly three times her age. Of course, in my first iteration of Bride of Dunloch, I wrote of her wedding night. As uncomfortable for me as that first go-round was, in this second iteration, I feel I must expand on this scene, and change its direction a little. Like a cook trying to find the right blend of flavours, or a painter trying to find the right combination of hues, I need to use some vivid and disturbing language and imagery to bring out just how awful and damaging an experience “the wedding night” was for young Jane.
Needless to say it’s a very uncomfortable scene for me to write because it borders on non-consensual relations. But the thing is … it’s accurate to the time period. Of course it is. In fact, my novel would be even more realistic if I made poor Jane fourteen years old (which I refuse to do, by the way, historical accuracy be damned). With my enlightened, modern perspective, I am horrified at what has to happen to Jane, and am struggling with the fact that I am the one who has to tell her awful story to readers.
Because of this, I’ve allowed myself to get into a very bad headspace for a writer to be in. I’m constantly fighting the voice in my brain that says, “sweet heaven, what is my audience going to think?”
Now, for all us writers out there, we know we should not be thinking about our audience when we are writing our books. But with a topic so sensitive, and one that will be difficult for readers to read, it’s darned hard! The thing is, though, I know that if I take this difficult scene out, my book will fall flat. Readers won’t have any sense of Jane’s struggles, nor will they be given any insight into how this experience affects later decisions for her.
While I was grappling with this difficulty, I happened to host a birthday sleepover for my son. Five boys, all seven years old, running amok in my house. (The things we do for our children, huh?) Despite the migraine that swiftly took hold and did not leave until a good twenty-four hours later, I realized something as I watched them tear my house apart: they have no inhibitions.
Young master Ryland, it turns out, does not like socks, and at every opportunity I found him ripping them off his little feet. As an adult, I can tell you I would not be doing this in someone else’s house, no matter how stifling I may find my footwear. And then there was the undisputed alpha dog of the pack, young master Connor. Without a thought to his surroundings or the concerns of his hosts, he decided that he must, must do a backflip on the couch. Why? Because it was in his nature to do so.
As I was watching my coffee table being knocked sideways by an airborne seven-year-old, and as I was picking up a trail of discarded Batman-themed socks (and a whole host of other things, I might add, as there were five uninhibited children in total), I drew a parallel between the non-existent inhibitions of these sugar-addled children and my predicament with Bride of Dunloch. This parallel is that, when I’m writing, I have to stay true to my book. I cannot worry about what other people will think, no matter what the subject. My book is an entity of its own, and I cannot allow myself to force my inhibitions upon it.
This may seem obvious to you, dear readers, but I can promise you, when you’re so close to the problem, it’s not. And to draw this parallel was actually quite liberating. I realize now that I must face up to the fact that Jane’s first experience of intimacy will have to be horrific for her. I cannot downplay that. It might be difficult for me to write, it might be difficult for others to read. But it is a part of the story, and I must not stifle my story’s inherent nature.
No more than I can keep those socks on Ryland’s feet, or keep Connor from testing out his acrobatic skills on my sectional.
What about you? Have you ever struggled with your own inhibitions as a writer? I’d love to hear about it, and what you do to overcome this.