Tuesday, 8 March 2011

How Much Vomiting is Going Too Far?

AJ asked : When writing light hearted or romcom style fiction, how does one ensure the light hearted/fun element doesn't get drowned by the conflict/grimly high stakes? Or equally, the issues don't get undermined by frivolity.

In an early version of Another Woman's Husband, Becca the main character has her darkest moment and ends up getting drunk and vomiting in a car park. It's a humiliating experience for her. My editor vetoed it as being too sordid.

The same editor didn't turn a hair when, in Nice Girls Do, Anna after a very heavy night out is also sick. I think the difference is in the tone. I can't give an example of the Becca bit, because I dramatically changed the story line and lost the vomiting, but this is Anna...

"She tottered to the bathroom and washed as quickly as her poor coordination allowed. The skin on her face felt heavy and seemed to have dropped two inches. It was a curious mix of red overlying grey. She bunged some foundation on top. Dracula's bride stared back at her. She looked down and saw I survived Clare's hen party! emblazoned across her chest. She wasn't convinced."

There's quite a bit more but I think - hope, anyway - that the tone is quite perky. There's no question that Anna is going down to the darkest depths - she's hungover, yes, but is taking it in her stride. Becca, on the other hand, was upset and humiliated.

And I think that's partly where the answer lies. How does the character react to the grimness in question? Are they self-aware? Anna knows she had too much the night before and accepts her physical state the next morning. Becca was just miserable.

Marion Keyes has shown that you can go to some dark places within chick lit so long as the character, and the reader, doesn't have their noses rubbed in it. And of course, are we rooting for the characters? If so, we'll forgive them anything.

NEW!!! I've finally got round to organising some course dates....
How to WRITE a Novel: London 3rd May/Birmingham 7th May/
Oxford 8th May/Exeter 21st May/Bath 12th June
How to SELL a Novel: London 24th May/Exeter 4th June/


Henrietta Bird said...

Thanks Sarah - it's another post I'll be printing off and putting on the wall!

I like the post title very much! Going to tweet it now :-)


Jen Black said...

Hi Sarah - I've given you A Lovely Blog A - pop over to my site to see what it's all about! http;//jenblackauthor.blogspot.com
Sorry to advise you on your blog, but its the only way I have to contact you.

womagwriter said...

And I thought the post title was a reference to too much champagne at the awards last night. Sorry you didn't win but hope you had a good evening.

Sarah Duncan said...

AJ - glad it's useful.

Kath, how could you possibly think the two were related? All vomiting experiences in my books are obviously created from my imagination and have No Basis WHATSOEVER in real life.

Jen, thanks for the Lovely Blog Award! Give me a couple of days to organise myself to pass it on.

womagwriter said...

Yes Sarah, I believe you. Honest, I do. :-D

I have some friends who are convinced I once vomited in my handbag, but I never did. They are confusing me with a girl in one of the Commitments films.

Sarah Duncan said...

Of course they were...