Another thing that snowy, enclosing weather is good for (besides the memories of last week’s library) is uninterrupted writing time in front of a beautiful, gray winter.
Last Saturday I stumbled upon a short story written over seven years ago that I’m extremely excited about, because I really took the time to flesh out the plot and characters. It’s about a young, newlywed couple that is experiencing their first, second, and third argument. The woman is a non-confrontational princess; the man is an overly-confident, confrontational businessman. There are frustrating and wonderful parts of many people that I know in both of these creations, myself included. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them, until they popped up in a withered butter-yellow folder of old work. As I sat there re-typing their story, I had a good laugh with my own husband about how I had actually foreshadowed the same arguments we experienced several months ago. As he put it, “Life imitates art, doesn’t it?” Indeed, my love.
This Saturday I stationed myself at the desk to keep hashing out this narrative, and nearing the end of what I wrote, came upon a very interesting and necessary conclusion. I was scripting terrible characters, and have thankfully learned a lot about the process over these years. What made them so terrible? It’s the scene in which my “non-confrontational princess” lashes out at her husband, the morning after the fight, in front of company. The company that she has known for many years, and likes to impress. Um…time to pull these sleeves up and edit! It reminded me of the adventure books we had as Gen-Y sixth-graders with numerous choices about what to do. Should Maddie A) Throw dishes at her man and yell she wants a divorce? B) Settle down, drink some coffee and immerse herself in the newspaper, prolonging her non-confrontational ways or C) Rock back and forth because she hasn’t had her cup of coffee yet? I now believe, many years later, that B is the appropriate choice for this stage of the story, A is suited for a soap opera or character using too many caffeine pills, and C is what I probably would have done in her place. What a relief to now be able to let these characters speak for themselves, and not my ideology of a cool story.
“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” is an impressive young adult reader, and it contains a relevant quote that has stuck with me: “You’ve got to draw the chair.” One of the character’s art teachers is telling her not to be afraid of adequately illustrating limitations, darker pieces of human nature, and fears by bravely drawing her model’s wheelchair. Lena was afraid that any way she sketched it would be insulting. As uninteresting and simple as Maddie will be in her refusal to participate in a dramatic, climactic conflict, her realistic decision to withdraw from what she fears will hopefully portray stunning reality. And then, if and when the thrown dishes come, it will be because she has worked up to them and is about to change a part of herself with sparse help from the writer.
I’m not saying that writers surprising their characters with enthusiastic moments aren’t needed (see Guy de Maupassant, Kate Chopin, etc.). But I am noting that sometimes the most amazing, breathtaking and artistically-fulfilling part of a character is his ability to keep being himself—chair or no chair.