While there is a case to be made that a good writer can write about anything, I've come to the realization that the average writer is undertaking quite a challenge when they decide to write about a non-occurrence. Take this story as an example – I'll call it The Day I Didn't Get To Go To the Beach.
One day when I was a kid all the kids in the neighborhood got to go to the beach except me. I had to stay home. It was a beautiful beach with lots of sand which was ideal for building sandcastles but I couldn't build one because I didn't get to go. The waves were high that day, perfect for jumping-through and body-surfing except I didn't get to do that because I didn't get to go. Everybody got snow cones which came in lots and lots of flavors but I didn't because.... well, you get the picture.
The reason I have been thinking about this is because I am reading a book right now about a young woman who has decided to “save herself for marriage”. It is a Christian-themed book and I am reading it because someone asked me if I would please read it and give my opinion. I am over 150 pages into it and this girl, despite a gazillion opportunities, is still a virgin and is determined to remain so. I'm having trouble staying awake while reading.
Now let me hasten to say I have no problem with this girl's choice. I always admire restraint when one is not ready for an experience and I do admire her principles – it's just dead boring to read about. For a few pages early in the book the author spent some time on the girl's emotions around her decision but the thing is she really doesn't have many, she made her decision for religious reasons and she is sticking to it which is fine but there isn't a lot more to say about all of this – except the author has another ±200 pages to fill.
As I was reading last night – and trying to stay awake – I started thinking about why this book is such a snoozer. Most of the characters are okay, her parents are nice, her younger siblings are nice, the boys who are trying to change her mind are pretty nice for the most part. Most of them respect her for her principles except a couple who don't and they'd be creeps whether she slept with them or not. Her parish priest is kind and supportive and admires her. The nuns who teach at the junior college she attends are interesting. This is a nice story about nice people (except for the creeps) and has a nice premise. How on earth anyone will stay awake to get to the end is anyone's guess...
The basis of all story telling is tension – something at risk. The reader reads because they want to know what is going to happen. Maybe this young heroine will slip up and all will be lost but I don't think so because the book's back cover tells us that this is an uplifting story about a young woman's commitment to her Christian principles. So far she has struggled with her sexual desire about as much as most of us struggle over getting another Graham cracker with peanut butter on it (if it was Nutella there might be more tension.)
So how do writers deal with non-occurrences? Over the past few years, as I've interacted with readers on sites like Goodreads and Amazon Discussion Boards, I've discovered that there are a fair number of readers who don't want a lot of tension in stories. They want nice, sweet, charming reads without too much conflict and a happy ending. And there are a lot of writers who write for that audience, I am just baffled by how those books survive.
One reader told me that her life has enough tension in it and that she wants a book that is comforting and heart-warming. She doesn't want sex, violence, swearing, drinking, illegal activities, and she really, really doesn't want suffering or cruelty to animals. Well, I'm betting she will like this book (except for the creeps) but, unless there are a lot more people out there like her, I don't know how books like this one are going to fare. The books I've loved the most in life are the ones that have challenged my thinking, tested my values, and pushed me to consider whether or not I really believe what I think I do.
I believe I will finish this book, send the author a nice polite note encouraging her to keep writing, and then read the new James Lee Burke or Daniel Silva. I know they will write about something and I won't be able to put it down.
Thanks for reading.