The Power of Longing in Fiction


I’m not a minimalist when it comes to my writing. My characters hunger deeply, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I once had a very wise editor who said that underplayed emotions can be just as problematic as over-displayed ones, and I really think that’s true. I never want to stoop to melodrama, but I would much rather write characters full of longing — even for small things — than those who adopt a studied pose of detachment.

I think there can be a tendency in our current literary climate to go for that pose, to aim for a cooler (in both senses of the word) or ironic stance. Personally, though, I’ve never liked books with such a tone. I might intellectually admire their skill, but I want an emotional connection.

And so I write characters who search for emotional connection too. In Necessary Madness, Gloria grapples with the fear that she’ll become as boundary-less of a parent as her father was due to grief; in Letting the Body Lead, Isobel stops hiding behind academic achievement to embrace her sensual side. And Lesley in Etched On Me simply wants her infant daughter back.

So I say embrace the power of yearning. We don’t need more books that show off erudite prowess; we need more books that showcase complex but pure feeling.

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