Wanna guess the last book I read? WICKED! As a theater nerd, Wicked is at the top of my list of Broadway must-see’s (closely followed by Hamilton and Next To Normal). I’ve been singing the music since high school, and after finding the books at Goodwill, I realized it was finally time to read the series that inspired the musical. I had already read Gregory Maguire’s “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” and enjoyed the twist on the classic Cinderella story. When I found out that “Wicked” was only the first in a four part series, I was excited! And THEN I found the final three at Goodwill! It took me a bit longer to find “Wicked” and when I did, I couldn’t wait to start.
Now. Let me just say this. If you enjoy the musical, and love the connection of characters and relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, I should warn you now: The book is not like the musical. Not even close. If you loved the ending of the musical, you’ll hate the book. In fact, I was halfway through, and had to stop for a couple months just because I was so heartbroken by the “real” story in the book. When I finally picked it back up last month, I had to resolve myself to the fact that I would not be happy with what I would find.
I’ve said before that one of the keys to being a good writer, is the ability to create characters that leave an impact on the reader. That power to impact the reader and (in a way) manipulate them, is a super powerful thing.
Writing gives me peace. It gives me power. It’s violent and urgent and grotesque and REAL. I am both creator and destroyer. I am both life and death. If a character is too weak, kill them off. Make the reader suffer like I have suffered; like the character has suffered. I can offer hope on a silver tray, and then snatch it away just as quickly. That power that comes with writing is probably one of the reasons I do it. When I have no control over the pain I feel, or the emotions that have gone numb in my chest, I can write. I have control over that. Much like someone who slashes lines into their skin just to feel something, I can control everything, when I am the one writing the script. If I didn’t have my writing, I honestly don’t know if I would even be here. That’s the God-sworn truth. (Excerpt from Why I Write)
I love to write. I always have, and I hope I always will. There’s something to me about being able to create a world that doesn’t exist. I can put whoever I want into that world (including myself), and anything can happen. Not only can I create worlds, I can also invite people into them. The biggest compliment you could give to my writing is that I made you laugh out loud, hurt with my protagonist, or maybe even cry in the end. I love that by piecing words together, I create a whole new universe that has the power to seriously mess you up. In a good way. (Excerpt from Self Doubt & Other Things That Go Bump In The Night)
We’ve all seen it. The main or side character is dying. Maybe in the rain with blood streaked across their face. They’re being cradled and told “Don’t speak. You’re going to be fine!” as they choke out their final words. In movies and books, when we see a character die, there is a long moment where the tears are slipping down their cheeks as they say goodbye and then slowly drift away. But death, much like sex and exploding cars, doesn’t happen like it does in the movies. Death is quick and leaves you reeling. You think, “It all just happened so fast.” You can hardly believe you didn’t get to say goodbye. You need time to process their death and you feel numb. Gregory Maguire doesn’t write fluff. If a character dies, they die. So quickly that you wonder if you missed something. I re-read the final page of a chapter seven times and then googled it to make sure before I realized my favorite character was dead. It’s awful and the pain leaves you sitting in shock. There is no three page description of their passing into the void. They maybe get a sentence. If that.
But then again, does life offer a three page goodbye? The answer is no. No, it doesn’t. At best, death hits at the worst possible time. Gregory Maguire captures this so well in his writing. The way he treats and presents death and loss, he gives the reader no “page therapy” to work through what they just went through. There is no room to process in his pages. To do that, you have to put down the book and handle your grief in the real world.
Grief hits us all in different ways, and they even have stages worked out, so that you can better understand what you’re feeling. No one knows this better than a writer. To write good characters, to create good emotional connections, you have to understand your character and what they are feeling. The power that a writer exhibits over the creation of their character also exhibits that same power over the emotions of the reader. The more attached the reader becomes to the plot or character, the more they can be impacted by the overall story.
Whether you’re a fan of “Wicked” the musical or not, reading the book is something I would recommend. Just prepare yourself for a totally different side of The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.