The secret story. I’m sure most writers have one or two of them. Some of these stories may have been written down. Some may have not. We hear about it mostly with poets, but that doesn’t mean that novelists aren’t prone to the syndrome either. Or, I should say, it doesn’t mean we’ve never attempted it.
My mentor brought up a similar topic during our club meeting a while back. Are there some stories that shouldn’t be written? And furthermore, should a writer be afraid to write about something “taboo”?
I got to thinking about this the other night when I was on the phone with my mom and I mentioned one of my “secret” stories to her.
I must say, I’m an old pro at telling myself I’ll never share a story, that the story will be only for me to read, and then promptly telling someone about it. Prism World is probably my most classic example of this. It started out with a little writing exercise I assigned to myself, but my intention was to keep it quiet. Yeah right. I may come across as quiet most of the time, but when it comes to my writing I really can’t shut up. And so, by the time I had written 3 chapters in Prism World, I was sharing it with my writing club…and then my family…and then here on my blog.
Over the course of my life, I have had various reasons for keeping certain selections of writing a secret. It started out with the daydreams that I wrote down. As a young pre-teen/teenage girl, you can imagine that my mental heroics and romance were things I wanted to keep to myself. Still do, actually. They weren’t bad content-wise, but they were personal.
This habit of keeping certain writings secret stretched out into regular fiction later on in my life. At first it was just because I wasn’t confident in my ability to write. Nowadays, however, it’s become a bit more complicated.
Prism World was only a small stretch out of my comfort zone. Violence and language are not new to me, so writing about an assassin wasn’t all that big of a deal. Writing about a society that breeds people, and the experiences the main character goes through because of this, made the story a little more risque. And yet I couldn’t keep it quiet. I felt the incredible desire to share it, and eventually I did, despite taking a “vow of silence” as it were.
There are other stories that I have told myself I’d keep quiet about, too, but like Prism World I have proceeded to share the ideas, and sometimes text, with people all the same. I wouldn’t call them risque, though. Not until my most recent idea.
This idea, the one that I told my mom about and subsequently mentally smacked myself when I heard her reaction, is probably the most daring of any story I’ve attempted. It all started out one day when I began to wonder what it would be like to write from the perspective of the “bad guy”. Being a medieval historian of sorts, I also know about the sexual indescretions of male royalty through out history, of the harems they kept and the things nobility did, and of the amount of evil that these people could commit. Being the curious individual that I am, I wondered what it would be like to turn convention inside-out and write a story about a corrupt queen who kept a harem of men. (Someone once said the way my mind works scares them, but they don’t know the half of it.)
And so I began jotting down notes. The idea was this:
The hero of the story is a mysterious sword-weilder (who eventually turns out to be a woman) known as “Revolution” who builds up an army to fight against a selfish and corrupt queen. The queen, named Serea, keeps a collection of six men she calls escorts, people who she picks up off the street at her pleasure and forces them to leave everything they have ever known in order to come live with her. The story is told from Serea’s perspective. The conflict comes in when one of the men Serea picks up turns out to be the fiance of “Revolution”, and the story follows Serea all the way through to the end of the revolution where she loses her throne and, ultimately, follows the choices and consequences she must face because of her actions.
Now, just to clarify, my mom is a very, very conservative Christian lady. Why I told her about this idea, I have no clue. But it still brings up the question: Are there ideas that are off-limits?
I’ve heard of writers being ostracized or even disowned by their families for the things they wrote. Sometimes this was because of content. Sometimes it was because the book really was putting the families’ “skeletons in the closet” on display. This, plus the long list of books banned throughout history, indicates that there are a fair few who believe certain things should not be written. But is that right?
I suppose the answer all depends on your own personal views, as the question itself is heavily determined by personal moral code. Christians, at least the variety that I have grown up with, tend to think that there really are limits to what ought to be written. I could probably write a book-length list of these off-limits topics. I, however, tend to think that it’s all about the reason a piece is being written.
The fact of the matter is that even the Bible leaves very few topics untouched. There is probably just as much sexual explicitness in the Bible as there is in a modern romance novel. (I’m guessing on this one though, as I’ve never actually read a romance novel.) And yet the goal of the two narrative collections are vastly different. One is for life guidance, the other for worldly pleasure.
I think it is a natural thing for a writer to want to share their work, but sharing can be hard, sometimes frightening, and sometimes even dangerous when writing about topics that certain groups, or even humanity itself, likes to pretend don’t exist. And more than anything, people hate being pulled out of their comfort zone.
I don’t really have a definite answer as to whether or not some ideas should be off limits, but I probably should try harder to keep my secret stories to myself. Or, at least, not to try and discuss them with my conservative Christian mom.
But then again, I never was very good at keeping my mouth shut…