Writing Can Be Messy

Note: This post is more than a book review, however, it does include some story spoilers.  You’ve been warned.

Last night I finished one of the most difficult reads of my life: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  I had heard ripples of conversation about it through reading groups, but I didn’t seriously get intrigued until I read Writer’s Digest’s article about Hosseini, which happens almost every time I read an author’s personal story.  They become real people to me.  Real people with a passion for writing just like me.  Never, though, did I expect the tale that would unfold when I downloaded this novel onto my Kindle.

There were times while reading The Kite Runner that I felt like I was witnessing a violent roadside accident, and I couldn’t take my eyes away.   I almost called it quits when Amir’s best friend is raped by the neighborhood bully.  However, Hosseini had me caring so much about these kids that I had to see them through to the end.  His character development is probably some of the strongest I have ever read.  I honestly believe I would have closed any other novel forever.

Despite the pain this book inflicted on my heart, I was delighted with layers of meaning and fabulous writing.  Hosseini’s writing is beautiful.  He has a flow I’ve never encountered anywhere else.  His images were brilliant.  I felt I was right beside Amir and Hassan in the biting cold, my neck aching from gazing skyward for hours, guiding their kite to victory.  I was in the room screaming with Sohrab while Amir battled his childhood nemasis for the boy’s freedom.  I invaded the intimate moment under the green veil as Amir and his new bride gazed at themselves for the first time in a mirror at their wedding.

Hosseini taught me something.  I never would have thought of Afghanistan as a happy, peaceful place where people could prosper and children could run free in the streets.  It reminded me of the stories older American generations tell about life in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  I also recognize that a portion of the story was told through a child’s eyes.  A child who grew up in a wealthy home.  Perspective is everything.

I also didn’t know much about the Taliban reign in Afghanistan.  Yes, I saw the CNN reports, but really I just dismissed much of it–I have a whole soapbox speech about how I feel about American media, but I will spare you.  This book took me there.  It tore at my heart.  I hurt because I live in such a wonderful country and have been spared the injustices and unacceptable living conditions these people have been subjected to.

The next layer was the growth and development of Amir.  I see him as an anti-hero.  He did horrible things as a child in scrabbling attempts to win his father’s approval.  Sometimes as an adult, he wasn’t that great of a human either, but he was evolving.  I saw hope for him.  For much of the novel, Amir was not very likable.  I have realized in several books I thought hated, I just hated the main characters.  They were crappy people.  The Great Gatsby (most of the cast was shallow and irritating).  Gone with the Wind (Scarlet, I love to hate you).  Those characters made me nuts.  After some reflection, I discovered what I was really encountering was some damn good writing!

I learned a lot about writing from The Kite Runner.  Sometimes you have to get messy, challenge your reader to go past her comfort zone.  If you have done your job and created characters a reader can’t leave hanging you have written a winner.  Take your reader to a place she’s never been.  Teach her something.  Make her care about something she never would have given a second thought in her mile a minute, self-absorbed life.

I tend to be a tidy writer.  My natural tendency is to create a safe, happy little world for my people to frolic in.  When problems hit, they almost aren’t believable.  I started a piece last winter with a main character I never warmed to.  I’m beginning to think I need to bring her back out to play.  Get my hands dirty and see what the outcome is.

Thank you Khaled Hosseini for giving me permission to go places I normally wouldn’t.  The atrocities in The Kite Runner were not gratuitous as I first thought.  They were necessary.  This was not a tidy story.  In fact, it was a hot mess.  It didn’t even have the happy ever after I look for when I pick up a novel.  I’ll admit, that stung a bit.  I wanted to wrap a bow around the ending, but alas that ribbon is going to have to wait until my next read, and I’m going to be careful about pulling it out too soon on my own work.

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7 thoughts on “Writing Can Be Messy

  1. Bravo! You’ve had a huge break through! Stories wrapped in bows often seem just a little off putting to me…like they are missing authenticity. I’ll choose raw, gutting literature over a bow any day!

  2. Sounds extraordinarily powerful. I have a similar feel for Afghanistan after reading Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War, a memoir. But an entirely different type of story. I wish you the best in incorporating your new wisdom into your words.

  3. I agree that I tend to want to like the main character, and if I can’t, then I dislike the entire book. (Although I loved Scarlett in GWTW.) I also tend to get caught up in stories that have a lot of action going on. So I had a similar experience when I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Not a lot of action, but wow, what a story. The story unfolds slowly, drawing forth through mythology and side stories, to question archetypes, mythologies, and our awareness of the history of our culture and what is has become. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  4. Kayla, you just inspired me to pick up this book. I enjoy all kinds of reads – messy, tidy, and otherwise. Your writing style gives me hope for my own. I tend to be too wordy at times, with a bit of a stream-of-consciousness style. Looking forward to learning from you. Thank you for your willingness to share yourself.

    • Thank you! Your words mean a lot. My first drafts are usually pretty messy and stream of conscious style. Revise! Revise! Revise! And make sure to read your pieces out loud. I find all kinds of things when I do that.

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