The Compulsive Reader: Guest Blog from Janice Hardy!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Guest Blog from Janice Hardy!

Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE. DARKFALL, the final book of the trilogy, is due out October 4, 2011. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her online at www.janicehardy.com, chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story (http://blog.janicehardy.com/), or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Why I Love Moral Dilemmas

To me, writing is a bit of a psychological experiment. I love creating morally gray situations and seeing how my characters are going to react to them. What they’ll do, what lines they’ll cross. How far are they really willing to go to get what they want?

In my fantasy adventure trilogy The Healing Wars, I experiment with how far someone might go to save a family member. My heroine, Nya, discovers her little sister Tali has disappeared and she has to find her and get her back. What made this especially interesting to me is that Nya has the unique ability to heal by shifting pain from person to person. To help someone, she has to hurt someone else. So it made sense to push this idea a step further and have Nya choose between hurting others and saving her sister.

To gray up the morals even more, Nya’s shifting ability can also get her into a lot of trouble if she uses it. Her city is currently under enemy occupation, and if the soldiers find out she can shift pain, they’ll capture her and use her as a weapon against her own people. She’s really stuck – risk herself, risk strangers, risk friends, risk family. No matter what she chooses, someone is going to suffer for it.

These moral dilemmas are what I love exploring. For example, in the novel there’s a terrible accident where hundreds of people are injured. Afterward, Nya meets someone who needs her help. His father was injured, is dying, and he needs Nya to heal him and shift his pain. The catch? She has to shift it into this boy and his younger brothers and sister (very young, like 10 and 8). Does she hurt children to save their father? Risk trading their lives for his? And this request comes with the offer of food and a place to sleep for the night. Something Nya desperately needs at that point in the story.

Maybe it’s my dark side coming out, but putting my characters into tough situations just to see what they’ll do makes the writing more interesting. How far can I push Nya before she digs in her heels and says no way? Can I make her do what she swore she’d never do? Can I have her make a horrible choice she deeply regrets, then force her to do it again?

When choices are easy in a story, it’s clear how the characters will decide. Giving my characters impossible choices makes it more unpredictable – both for me and the reader. You never know where a choice might lead, but you’re pretty sure it’ll end badly for someone. And when they do make a hard decision, you cringe right along with them.

It also makes me think about what I’d do in that situation. Would I make the same choice Nya does? The same sacrifice? It’s actually a lot of fun to have a character choose something I wouldn’t do. It’s like I get to explore other options without the consequences. And playing “what if” has always been one of my favorite games.

Exploring the moral gray area is central to all my stories. My miniature studies of human nature, even if I’m the one making up all those humans. Hmmm…do you suppose it’s really a study of me? Maybe my dark side is stronger than I thought.


Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Great post, Janice. I'm in the middle of The Shifter right now and loving it. Good moral dilemmas are great fun to read, and sometimes even seeing how quickly a character will make a difficult decision is very telling of who they are.

Bethany said...

Cool! THe book sounds really good, I might have to pick it up :)

Janice Hardy said...

Paul: Thanks! Glad you're enjoying the book so far. My favorites are the ones when the choices make you cringe.

Bethany: Thanks! Hope you do, and that you enjoy it.

Amy @ turnthepage said...

I've just read the first book - the one I have is called The Pain Merchants though which confused me for a while lol. I saw the cover and your post and was like that sounds cool! Hang on... lol. Woops.

I love moral dilemmas and touch choices as well. Books that look at human nature in exciting fantasy environments are my favourite kind to read :) This one didn't quite grab me sadly though it picked up in the second half. But after your review I may check the library for the next two :)

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Excellent post, Janice. It's always fascinating to get a glimpse into another writer's process.

Janice Hardy said...

Amy: Yep, it does have a different title for the first book. Shame it didn't really grab you, but that's so sweet of you to be willing to give the next books a chance :) I hope they're more to your liking.

Vicky: Thanks! I think so too. I love hearing how other writers write.

Elizabeth Poole said...

I loved the first two books, and I think the moral dilemmas is a big reason why. It makes the book feel more real to me. You did an excellent job with the worldbuilding, so that helped, but all of the characters were fleshed out into real people put into a tight spot.

And it does create this air of uncertainty, because you never knew what Nya was going to do. Hence why I read each book in one sitting. :D

Brittany said...

I love moral dilemmas in books. They add depth to the character and make things much more interesting. Great post!

shing said...

Is the Trilogy available in the Philippines yet? I would like to have a copy...

Sean said...

Can you have a truly impacting novel without a moral dilemma? I don't find it possible, personally. This trilogy of yours sounds nothing short of amazing. I'm polishing the first draft of one, myself. It is a huge challenge to not only to imagine such dilemmas, but to pull them off authentically, and with the right tone.

Amy @ Turn the Page said...

Janice - I definitely found the concept of healers intriguing and unique - and I enjoyed finding out just how different Nya was from the others more and more as the book progressed.

I can tell a lot of detail went into it - especially concerning what healers could and couldn't do and the consequences of shifting pain into other people. It is clear you have spent a great deal of time on the worldbuilding, which I always really appreciate when reading a book. Im certainly interested in seeing where the story goes next and meeting more characters like Nya with unusual healing gifts, even though it did take me a while to get into the first book.

It's been great having the chance to chat to you on here about it though! Good luck with the next release!

Janice Hardy said...

Elizabeth: Thanks so much! That uncertainty is what I love about it too. It's also fun to see what you can do to push someone toward something "wrong" and see if you can make it feel like it's the right thing to do.

Brittany: They really do. Especially if you're not sure what that character will do.

Shing: I don't know. It's not officially published there (as in published by a publisher in that country) but it might be available in the stores. You can probably find it online, though.

Sean: Hmmm, I'm not sure. Possibly, if the conflict was interesting enough. Maybe ethical dilemmas? You're right about those challenges. Sometimes it's a fine line between credible and "oh come on, really?" Good luck with yours!

Amy: Thanks! The world building came first on THE SHIFTER, and I spent months developing it. I needed to know how the world and magic worked before I could put Nya into it (and even know who she was, really). The world usually comes first in my stories after that initial spark of an idea. That's where I find all the conflict and story ideas.

Beth said...

Janice, you've obviously tapped into an important element of fiction--characters pushed beyond the norm. And before they can adjust, you push them again, even harder.

A great approach. (Did you ever volunteer for psych experiments in college? I remember some doozies.)

Here's to great success for you and your books.

Janice Hardy said...

Beth: Nope, I was never a lab rat. But I bet had I gone into psychology I probably would have been one or ran one of those experiments, hehe. Probably better that I became a writer. I'm contained that way (grin)