Integrity and Subject Matter

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Integrity

 noun: in·teg·ri·ty

 

 

  1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

 

  1. the state of being whole and undivided.

Thanks again, Google definitions.

 

Be sure to check out my previous post on Integrity and Writing (go on, I’ll wait for you back here.)

Back already? Fine, check it out later.

So, I’m talking about Integrity and Subject Mater, or writing about bad things in a good way.

This is a strange one, given the nature of the stuff I write about. I’m hanging on the dark side of things, where bad things happen and people get hurt, and sometimes, they die.

And, yeah, my work is filled with blood, entrails (both human and other), and a heck of a lot of violence.

But I still like a good love story, and often they all combine together in weird and wonderful ways.

A story always has a certain truth to it, an internal logic and inner integrity unto itself. Part of the challenge of being a writer is navigating that truth, the reality of the story itself, and presenting something that both the writer and the reader can connect to.

Is the story too obscure, too dense and impenetrable? You gotta let us in, loosen the binds of its internal logic a little and let us know what’s really going on. Show us or tell us, whatever, just let us in.

Is the story too transparent? You spill the beans too early? Pacing and some structural support can help with that. But you gotta find and follow the intrinsic logic of your unique story.

Different stories deserve to be told in different ways, and dark stories can be pretty tricky.

I recall an interview with Stephen King, where he said people were protesting his treatment of a (fictional) dog. The dog was pepper sprayed and kicked to death in his opening chapter. He wanted to show how bad his character was, and folks held him accountable for harming an imaginary dog.

Honestly, I get both sides of it.

I do not support abuse of women, children or animals in real life, so don’t give it to me in a fictional form. I do write stories where bad (or potentially deadly) things happen to women, children and animals because, for me, that’s a way of getting to the truth of a situation.

And yeah, in my stories animals may be eaten or dismembered, children may be abducted or die, and people kill each other.

Violence in my stories is never gratuitous; it’s never a celebration of harming another person (or animal). But still bad stuff happens, because, hey, that’s life.

And that’s a fine line to walk.

I think of the edgier aspects of society, where informed consent is key. Does the participant agree to do these things (or have them done to them)? Yes, well then it’s all good.

No, OK, well then, it’s abuse.

In some corners of the web, gratuitous violence is glorified; and sexism and violence against women, children and animals reigns supreme.

And I don’t want any part of it.

That’s where integrity comes back in. My own sense of integrity (my moral compass, if you will) just doesn’t get stuff like that. As a writer, I dance on the fine line between showing and telling, and light and dark, and a thread of morality runs through it. Tip to one side, and I have spatterporn. Tip to the other, and I have another kind of story, more fluff and less dark.

I think the balance is found in dancing on that line.

‘Course, it’s easy enough to write a lousy story filled with tits and guns, pistol whipping and blood – and you know what? It holds the reader’s attention. Think of the double-Ds prominently displayed in most lowbrow fiction.

Ooh, baby – that sure grabs at ya, don’t it?

But, I like life on the edge of the knife, that shining blade that cuts so deeply you don’t even feel the sting until afterward. Dark and light twist together into something else entirely.

The kind of story that makes you afraid to turn out the lights, or makes you wonder what your neighbour’s really up to.

The kind of story that plays with your head, tells the truth and stretches it, and stays with you long after you’re done reading.

It’s a story that holds to its own version of the truth, its own logic. It is, unapologetically, what it is.

And integrity is all part of that.

~ Liz

In case you missed it the first time ‘round, check out my previous post on Integrity and Writing.

Integrity

industrial

Integrity

 

noun: in·teg·ri·ty

 

  1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
  2. the state of being whole and undivided.

Thank you Google definitions.

 

Integrity has been on my mind lately. Not just the kind of integrity where you don’t take somebody’s stuff (i.e. rip off artists and writers) and either sell it for profit or pretend it’s your own. Trust me, that’s always on my mind, and part of the gig when your work appears in a public forum like the ‘net.

But I’m talking about writing with integrity.

And this means something else.

It’s about being true to your audience, whether your long time reader or most devoted fan. It’s not always about giving those folks exactly what they want, all the time, because, let’s face it, you gotta be true to you, and sometimes things change, and you want to try new ideas and put old ones to rest.

But writing with integrity is about giving those folks your best, whatever that is.

It’s also about being true to you, and your version of the story.

And here’s where things get murky.

Of course, as a writer, you’re expected to be a reader too. To be a good writer, you should read as wide a range of genres and authors as possible, because you learn something about the craft of writing in each thing you read.

Although some of this stuff is pretty explicit and easy to study (ah, that’s what she does with sentence fragments), your brain absorbs most of it unconsciously, like a giant sleeping sponge.

When you write, you wring out that sponge, and – voila! – words appear, that are hopefully your very own. Or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.

And that’s where integrity comes in.

Now, I’m not talking about ripping off of somebody’s plotline or characters, because that’s so obvious, it’s truly lame. I’m talking about deeper stuff.

Like voice.

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Voice

Voice is one of the weirder things about writing, because it goes beyond the page. Here’s where I sit inside your head for a while, camp out and roast marshmallows, kick back and visit.

You get a piece of me, and I get nothing in return.

But don’t worry, it’s all good. I just want to see you reading my stuff, that’s all. And if you tell me what you think, even better. The good, the bad, the ugly, tell it like it is.

Because that feedback is like gold to a writer.

But back to the writer as an avid reader. Sometimes things get absorbed and twisted around in that brain of yours, and your voice – your version of the truth and how it should be told – gets lost.

You might get that I like simple text, straightforward sentences, sentence fragments and a quick jump to the plot.

I read stuff that tends to be high action and straight-up. Hemmingway, minimal description, and tight prose. Pull some punches and keep it moving.

I’m a fan of KISS, keep it simple, sonofabitch. I also swear. A lot.

And, that’s pretty much me in real life. Swearing, straight talk. Sometimes too blunt, but hey, I tell it like it is.

What happens when I read a lot of literary fiction? Well, for example, my sentences take on a meandering quality, where they go on fantastic segues, arcing and capering, and never really get to the point. Also, description and stuff.

Uh, yeah, my voice gets twisted around.

I’m not saying this is completely a bad thing; I think we can all learn from different genres and different styles. But, I’ve been known to pick up a literary-style book that a friend highly recommended (she nearly peed herself, giving it to me); and I gave up reading it after the first sentence.

My reason: too many words.

Well, duh.

It is a book after all, and although my friend loved it to pieces, it wasn’t for me. Try this one:

Blood spattered on the pavement, and he grinned.

Now you have my attention.

This speaks to me – blood, and somebody’s emotional reaction at odds with the situation, and I just want to know more.

And its told in my good ol’ KISS style. Simple, straight up punch to the head.

That’s more who I am, and what I’m about. It speaks to my voice.

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Enough about me, let’s talk about those other folks

And that’s the challenge most writers face, how to do you learn and grow from others while staying true to yourself?

I’ve had stories die a slow cruel death in workshops, ripped apart before they had a chance to become what they should – my version of the truth. What happened? Too many differing opinions crept in, and things fell apart.

How did I learn from this? My critique circle is pretty tight, and things need to be nearly rock solid before I share them. Other folks work differently, and that’s fine for them.

For me, to maintain the integrity of my work, I need to have things fully developed before I expose them to the world. I need to know what I’m doing and how I’m doing it before you can even get a word in.

That’s not to say I’m totally inflexible, I value feedback, and want to see what you like and what you don’t, and I’ll try to fix things to give the reader the best experience possible. And if you have some ideas on structure or pacing, I’ll listen to those as well.

But don’t expect me to change it.

Because sometimes a story has an integrity unto itself; it’s own version of the truth, if you will. And if you don’t like it, there’s probably someone out there who does. And if nobody likes it at all, is that so bad?

Heck, the world’s filled with unlikable people, why not unlikable stories too?

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Editing

So basically, editing is beyond fixing mistakes, it’s about being true to your version of a story, in whatever form it takes.

First person narrative told only in sentence fragments?

Got it.

Third person literary narrative of the decline of sensibility in the modern era?

This is a topic that has held the minds and imaginations of literary circles for centuries; and is best dealt with through thoughtful prose, inspiring discussion, and innovative characters that hold true to classical ideals.

Uh, yeah, anyway.

Now being true to you isn’t about throwing your first (or second, or third) draft out there, full of typos and half-baked ideas. Heck, I’d be functionally illiterate without my good ol’ spell checker, and even then sometimes I need to pull out the big, bad dictionary.

I’m talking about presenting a crystalized version of the truth for both you and the reader, something you both can get lost in for a while. The best you can do.

Give me your best, your voice, and your story, told in your way.

That is integrity.

 

~ Liz

{Shh… I’m talking about Integrity and Subject Matter in my next post. Or, ‘how do I write about bad things in a good way’. Be sure to drop by and check it out, and let me know what you think.}