Confronting Fiction- Janet Gurtler
Conflict or confrontation in young adult fiction is an interesting topic for me, especially whether or not I try to avoid it. Instinctively I think I would like to. In my real life I admit I’m not a fan of confrontation. It’s hard for me. I’m kind of a people pleaser by nature and mostly I get a sore stomach when I have to deal with people who are angry or quarrelsome. I’ve gotten better at it. It does get easier with practice and my years working as a sales rep certainly helped. I got pretty good at dealing with conflict by mentally preparing myself but at the end of the day I needed to go home and have quiet time and alone space to recover. Curl up in the fetal position until I chilled out.
So what about in my work as a writer? I certainly hope I stay true to my belief that in my fiction work, I don’t avoid conflict either. I want to. I want to be nice to my characters. I don’t want them to do some of the horrible yet human things they do or think. Part of me wants to please the moms and dads of my YA readers, the ones who don’t like swear words or sexual tension or ugly feelings or the brutal reality of life. But if I’m being true to characters and true to stories that I’m writing I can’t avoid conflict. I love to look at dark emotions. Dark moments that resonate in most people in touch with themselves.
When I’m writing I have to make a conscious effort to ignore critics who live in my head or stay perched on my shoulders. Critics who try to voice their opinions about what I’m writing. Like my husband and his religious family who would prefer I don’t swear or use the Lord’s name in vain. I have to ignore them. I love them, but I can’t listen when I’m writing. I often just pretend or hope that some people I know won’t read my books. I am compelled to write about dark issues.
I am pretty open about things like teenage drinking, drugs or sexuality. I strive to develop flawed characters who make mistakes, but whose mistakes don’t necessarily make them horrible people. I believe that all of us are capable of some pretty dark moments. Most of us have done things we’re deeply ashamed of and our hope is not to have those moments exposed. Well, I try to expose them but also show that some mistakes don’t make people bad -the end. There are limits of course, but I guess those limits are individual. When can we forgive? When is the line that is crossed one that can’t be returned from? That is something I like to explore.
I think the other belief I have, and something I hope rings clear in my work is that I have faith in people. Yes, I make my characters confront their darker moments but to me despite these moments, they still have value and in the end find opportunities to redeem themselves. Or forgive themselves. That doesn’t mean they can always be forgiven by others, but they have the potential to move forward. Live productive lives. And yes, I realize I am talking about pretend people and pretend lives. J
In IF I TELL, the main character Jaz, is dealing with a lot of flawed characters in her life. Her mom, her mom’s boyfriend and most of the kids she goes to school with. Herself. They’ve all done some pretty horrible things. There is definitely conflict in the story. Some of it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like what some of the characters do or have done in their past, and I don’t like the way some of them behave. But, I am also striving to illustrate that there is often a good person underneath repulsive or shocking things we’ve done. That as human beings we are capable of redemption.
Of course, there are other who are rotten and won't change. The true bad guys. One of the challenges in life is figuring out which people belong to which categories. And where we fit in as well.