I write about southern women in the decades from the Civil War up to the advent of civil rights, and let’s face it, that was a deeply troubled period in Southern history. So when one of my favorite characters loses her way in one of the many conflicts and controversies, I want to rescue her, to keep her strong, to make her story prettier than I know it really was. I love these women! I want everyone to know how wonderful they are. What if I get hate mail? What if my friends desert me? What if my family thinks I’m disrespectful of them? Maybe just skip the hard stuff. Write a feel-good story.
Of course, this is the worst kind of hypocrisy. And just the kind of platitudinous nonsense about the South that I rail against to all my friends who will listen. What’s more, it’s insulting to readers to assume they would prefer a one dimensional character to one who is flawed, who hurts, who is real.
Writers don’t talk about this much, so maybe I’m alone in balking at dragging my favorite characters through the literary mud. But just in case, when the story takes you to a painful place, like me, you find yourself staring at the blinking cursor and hovering over the backspace, I say, let’s suck it up, hit the spacebar and tell the truth. We owe it to our characters, our stories, our readers, and most of all, ourselves.
Artwork by Angela Marie Henriette