There is a dark undertone to my current writing project. The way I have it now, the story begins the first day of 11th grade after a pretty traumatic summer for our white-trashy hero, Seth McCoy. He lost his virginity to a girl he can't stand (but was so wasted, he doesn't remember anything about the experience), had a run-in with the cops (over what, I've never decided), and was the one to find his friend dead after a dirt-bike crash.
Seth was a bad kid. You know, vandalism, drug use, excessive drinking, and all-around indifference to life. His older brother is a terrible example, having lost his license for DUI arrests and such. His mother is young and fun, but not a terribly good example herself. She's the type who buys beer for minors and smokes pot with the kids. And she's having an affair with one of Seth's older friends (which is discovered at the end of the first chapter).
The story I want to tell is about this kid who was going down this path, but changed his mind and cleaned up his act. I wanted to show how his life differed when he was no longer doing the things that he's been doing all his life. How his family and friends relate to him. How his perceptions changed. It's not supposed to be a preachy story, or even an ALCOHOL IS BAD story. Of course, since I haven't written it, I don't know how it will come across.
Another element of the story is that he registers for an interpersonal communications class at school by mistake. He decides to stay because he thinks it will be pretty easy. There he will meet and get paired up frequently with Rosetta, a rich girl who he seems to have nothing in common with. Of course, he will learn that everyone has their own unique problems whether they live in a trailer park or in some fancy house on a golf course.
So, I'm trying to figure out what, if anything, I want to change in this story. Because my writing instructor says it is too dark and too adult. (Of course, she also insists I should be writing a female protanganist for the simple reason that I am one, so I'm not sure how much I value her opinions.)
In order to tell this story about Seth changing from being stoned all day and drunk all night to SOBER, I first have to give him a compelling reason to WANT to change. The reason I have chosen is the death of his friend. They were out, drinking and being all wild. A minute later, the friend was dead. It really freaked Seth out because it could have just as easily have been him. This element right here is behind everything in this story. It makes the main character depressed, soul-searching, and even a little bit angry. Without this death, the story can have a completely different feel.
The question here is: WHAT DOES SETH WANT AND WHAT WILL HE DO TO GET IT? I think what he wants to stop feeling powerless. His friend's death showed him that one stupid mistake can end everything in an instant. So he is trying to take control of his life in whatever ways he can. It will have some positive results, but I think he will find that he is still controlled by fear, so he'll have to work through that too.
I don't think the so-called darkness to this story line is bad. It's heavy, but that doesn't bother me. I've read other YA that is heavy and those are often the stories that stick with me longer.
However, maybe I really am hanging on to an idea that would be better left alone. I've come up with a few other ideas for why Seth could give up partying.
1. He got in big trouble with the law. Okay, but is that reason enough to WANT to change? He's 16 going on 17. Is the fear of jail seriously going to make him want to change his ways? Is the fear of punishment even an interesting development?
2. He got a taste of how the rich live (somehow) and is now ashamed of his life. I think this one would change the character the most from how I've envisioned him so far. I think it makes him weaker somehow. His driving forces would be desire for money (to buy a better life) and the hunger for respect (because he's always been looked down upon). Essentially he would be ditching past habits and friends because he's disdainful and wants to show that he's too good for them. This would mean that he is changing because of how he wants to be seen by others.
3. He wanted to prove that he could do it. This one might take place in the form of a bet? This could give the whole thing a kind of playful, humorous tone. His friends (or someone) might say that they don't think he CAN give up drugs for a period of time. He does it to prove them wrong and to get some major reward in return. Money, a new guitar? Something he really, really wants but can't get for himself unless he follows through with his end of the bargain. A question that would go along with this is who would actually offer this challenge and WHY would they want to?
4. He is working with a mentor who has challenged him to try to be better. This is similar to the previous one, but with a little more at stake because Seth wants the reward (whatever it is), but he also doesn't want to let the person down. But who is this mentor-person? And why does Seth care so much what they think?
5. Or maybe a more subtle change is in order: His friend was in a coma after the dirt bike incident, but didn't die.
6. He has to pass a drug test???? Okay, now I'm just starting to toss out any old idea whether it's thought-out or not. Meanwhile, I haven't completed any writing this week.
7. Another idea just came to me: This could have something to do with the band? Seth is in a band with his brother and also with the friend who is shagging Seth's mother. (Scandal! Tension!) I could have him see this band as his ticket to fortune. Or something. But why would being in a band make him quit drinking? Usually that would have the opposite effect on a kid.