I wrote recently how, after a few uninspiring months, I’d been infected with a new novel idea. A few weeks on, I love the characters, the situation and the potential quirkiness of one of the voices, but I’ve tried to rein in my enthusiasm to nail the plot. As one of my writing goals of 2019 is to reflect on where I’m placed in the marketplace and in my writing journey, I’m exploring how to make my fiction more commercial (as well as more literary), which means not embarking on projects that might lack wide appeal.
When a writer first answers the call she won’t necessarily realise she’s opted to play snakes and ladders wearing a blindfold, with an obstacle course of success and heart-rending disappointment towards a destination too hazy to define. On the way she’ll expose her wounds to all kinds of people, and might struggle to distinguish friend from foe. Will that painful critique be ultimately helpful? Will well-intentioned platitudes tie her to the starting blocks, never daring to take the risks which could uncover her personal best?
And out of step with potential readers? While I know I can’t please everyone, and, for all its runaway success, I wouldn’t have wanted to have written Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, but it would be good to find the magic formula that enables me to please more.
Truth is my personal elixir: truth about the depth of my childhood damage and the truth about how we’ve fucked up the planet. While I’m not averse to happy endings, or even happy beginnings and middles, if I take my inspiration from what’s inside me, how far can I travel along the hero’s journey story structure before hitting the wall? If I crank up the jeopardy, I can’t honestly deliver a that-was-all-right-then ending; if I launch my story towards an optimistic resolution, I struggle to fit in enough life-or-death challenges along the way.
I’ve had to confront this dilemma in miniature with this week’s flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story about sisu: “a Finnish concept of enduring strength, the ability to consistently overcome”. Even among friends at the Ranch, the call triggers my intellectual threat system of fight, flight or appeasement. But I’ve saddled up, and await your feedback.
At fifteen miles, she hits the wall. A stich in her side, legs in cramp, she staggers, sapped of juice. But she’d run through the pain in training. Today, the crowds and her fellow runners would cheer her on.
Wolfing down an energy bar, she recovers her mojo. But what the fuck? When she turns around to jog back to the beginning, they ask if she’s lost her mind.
If all goes well, she’ll do the distance. And a little more. She laughs at the thought of missing that marathon medal. ‘My way’ fills the hollow in her head.