Last week I had the opportunity to give a writing workshop at my local library. We talked about the romance industry, various sub-genres, my own journey to publication, and then we focused on character development & first meetings between hero/heroine. I asked them to do a brief character chart, fleshing out some questions and qualities about characters in their WIP, and then we discussed them. One of the best parts of the evening came when almost everyone there said something like "Now I know what I need to work on with this" or "I'm inspired to go back and work more on my story now" or "I never knew this about my character before!"
The most interesting part for me, though, was a comment from one woman who was talking about a short story she'd written (not really a romance, as you'll see in a minute). In her story, a man and woman meet on a hiking trail, strike up conversation, and have a relationship that ends up being a few years long. In the end, though, they get into an argument and she throws a microwave at his head and kills him. (!) In rather Alfred Hitchcock fashion, the story ends with her painting her nails and bemoaning the fact that she can't have popcorn because her microwave is broken.
She said, "I really do like the story, but I feel like I can't write everything the way I want to because it's too dark. Too evil. I feel like I can't give myself permission to write this story."
We all immediately latched onto that thought and talked about how often that can happen in writing. We don't feel comfortable writing profanity because we don't speak it. Or we don't feel comfortable writing explicit or kinky sex because it means we are thinking about it (or maybe even doing it behind closed doors!). When we write about acts like murder or infidelity, does it suggest we condone them? Of course not. But I think for many people, we do stumble when it comes to writing about things we don't personally live or accept.
BUT THAT'S OK!
This idea of giving ourselves "permission" to write anything our story calls for needs to exist. In the workshop, I suggested this woman write under a pen name. That way, when she sits down to tackle a dark story, it isn't "her" writing it, but another author. Maybe that will free her. I don't know if that will work, but I think it's worth a shot.