Click here for an explanation of the The Ways We Struggle guest post series.
Joining us today is Tara Kelly, author of the contemporary YA novels Harmonic Feedback and Amplified. As well as being an author, Tara is a one-girl-band, web designer, video editor, digital photographer, and literary agent intern. She lives in Portland with her ten guitars, supercool boyfriend, and a fluffy cat named Maestro. Here she talks about feeling different, and how that affects her writing.
This is where I talk about feelings. I don’t like talking about feelings much. Oh, I can vent with the best of them. I’m always complaining about the injustices of life… I have a thing about fairness. I get remarkably upset when things aren’t fair, despite knowing life isn’t fair and will never be fair. But when it comes down to digging deep and discussing my ‘feelings’, I’d rather not.
I’ve always thought of myself as an emotional person. But… maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m just sensitive. I’m blunt and I share disturbing events from my past in a matter-of-fact way (sometimes with humor), but I’m not one to cry or share my gushy feelings. See, I learned a long time ago that the things I went through growing up aren’t things a lot of people go through. They can’t relate. Hearing about it makes them uncomfortable. So, somewhere along the line, I buried those intense feelings. For better or worse.
I’ve always felt different. I know, I know. We all think that, right? Maybe I really am just like everyone else and don’t realize it.
Here’s what I do know… I don’t keep pictures of my loved ones on my desk or in my wallet or in my house. Not because I don’t love them. I’ve just never felt the need. I don’t hold onto old pictures either, not of loved ones, loved ones from my past, dead relatives, or even myself. I don’t decorate my office or my home with personal items (pictures, special/meaningful objects, posters, etc). I don’t find meaning in objects, never have. I haven’t seen my family in years, and this is normal for me. I prefer shy and independent cats to super friendly/needy cats. I guess the same can be said for my taste in guys, too. I don’t brood for months when I break up with someone, even if we were together for years. I don’t like to dwell. I don’t like to hold grudges. I don’t even like to live in one place too long. I’m always on the go. To say I’m not sentimental is an understatement, I guess. People find all of the above weird… and they’ve said so, many times. I resent being told I’m cold or that there’s something ‘wrong’ with me because I don’t express myself the way — perhaps — others would like me to. I’m certainly not devoid of emotion (I feel plenty, believe me), and I have a whole lot of love to give. If you’ve proven you’re worthy of it.
So what does this have to do with my writing? Well, everything. The one thing I hear a lot is… more emotion. We want more emotion. Many YA books I read are packed with emotional narrative — teen girls sharing their every feeling about a situation. And I’m not knocking this style — if that’s what does it for you as a reader, more power to you. But it doesn’t do it for me. I don’t want to be told what a character feels all the time — sometimes I want to figure it out. I want mystery. Sometimes I think there’s more power in what a character doesn’t say. I feel like there’s still this expectation out there — that female characters need to be emotional to be sympathetic. They need to angst over aloof boys, cry over their dead sisters, and wax poetic in their spare time. Here’s the thing, though. Some girls just aren’t in touch with their feelings. Some girls laugh at funerals. Some girls don’t give a crap about guys. Some girls are raunchy and crass. Some girls use fists instead of words. As a reader, I want to see more of those girls represented in YA. The ones who are different. Misunderstood. Broken. Unpredictable. Mercurial. So those are the characters I tend to write. And I will continue to write them.
But I need to step out of my comfort zone, too. I need to learn how to better express and write emotion. One of my WIPs features a very emotional character, a very broken girl full of anger and hurt. She has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and she’s ready to explode from it all. I need to dig deep — get back in touch with those intense feelings I buried in a safe place. I need to give her the voice she deserves…the voice I wished I had as a teen. No holding back. No censoring. Just raw, unedited feelings. We’ll see if it ever becomes a story…
“I don’t want to be told what a character feels all the time — sometimes I want to figure it out. I want mystery. Sometimes I think there’s more power in what a character doesn’t say.”
Tara I really enjoyed this post.
I think one of the things you’re talking about here is restraint, a subtle quality that quite a few people I know don’t understand.
I remember something my grandmother used to say at the table when she’d been offered something more to eat but had already had enough. She’d say, “No thank you, I’ve had an elegant sufficiency.”
Restraint is an subtle quality and also elegant, these are shared aesthetic companions of simplicity which to me, often implies mastery.
Unfortunately, these days it seems like overstimulation is everywhere, and people enjoy being hit over the head with all kinds of stuff, including emotions. I know that I’m guilty of adding smily faces, exclamation marks, etc. to my emails because I’m worried that people won’t get that I’m happy, or in agreement, or joking. Maybe I do the same thing with my writing, I’m not sure. I could be guilty of the Too Much Syndrome.
I’m a fan of your writing as you know, so I’ll be curious to meet this new explosive character . . . good luck with her and stepping out of your comfort zone. I’ve really enjoyed what you’ve written from there, but it will be interesting to see what you put out next.