Doesn’t anyone stay in one place, anymore (pt II)

9 04 2009

She grilled me for about 20 minutes, then requested—or was it offered?—to read my second novel.

I hesitated. She’s not sure if she buys the premise, namely, that of a young woman who leaves home and doesn’t look back, not once.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Really? She never gets in touch them?’


‘I can’t believe that.’

At this point C. chimed up and said, Oh yeah, I could believe that. Who hasn’t dreamed about just walking away from everyone? (Besides this co-worker, apparently.)

Thus, part two of the whole social networking/past/new life gig. Only this time it’s about writing.

This second novel isn’t bad. My first novel wasn’t bad, but it has all the defects of a first novel, not least of which is too much explanation going on in the dialogue.

I’ve cut that back on this one, way back. I’m less interested in directing the reader in her interpretation of events; rather, I lay out a scene, let her eavesdrop, and then decide for herself what’s going on. There’s no ‘she retorted hotly’ or ‘he smiled in confidence at his abilities.’ Nope. ‘She responded.’ ‘He smiled.’ Plain text, with, perhaps, unplain meanings.

I’m still working out what I want to do in my novels, but the more I’ve written, the more adamant I’ve become in not poking into the characters’ minds and spilling it out on to the page. Yes, when a character is alone, the reader may have access to her thoughts, but I don’t, as the writer, tell you what she’s feeling. She has to decide for herself what she thinks and feels, and it’s up to the reader to decide if the character is right or is full of it or whatever. (And yeah, maybe you’re right or full of it or whatever, too.)

You, the reader, are the witness to the events, neither the confidant to a first-person narrator nor the one who apprehends her true self. The character is her own, and the only privilege granted to the reader is that of witnessing aspects of the story not always available to the other characters. That’s it.

But that’s not why I’m hesitant to show the novel to my co-worker; hell, either the style works or it doesn’t. I guess I’m protective as well of the undercurrent of the novel, which is that allegedly big things happen to ordinary people, and they deal with them.

A daughter leaves her family, and life goes on.

Someone has an abortion, and it’s not traumatic.

There’s a car accident, and marriage difficulties, and births and deaths, and none of it is epic. It’s all just. . . life, and the characters mourn and adjust and move on. That’s it: Here are these characters, and here are their lives.

The co-worker, at the mention of the abortion, reacted as if I’d outlined a ‘Lifetime Movie Event’ or set up some kind of schema of which buttons to push. As if abortions and car accidents and marriage difficulties never happened in real life.

I’m particularly touchy about this kind of reaction precisely because I don’t have any kind of outline for my stories. I set up a situation, and let it spin out. Did I know ahead of time that a character would have an abortion? Nope. Car accidents, marriage difficulties? Nope, nope. They come up, the characters deal with them.

Now, if the characters aren’t real to you, none of this will work. And that would bother me, but that would also seem like a legitimate criticism: I wanted to create real characters, and failed.

But the notion that if something big—out of the supposed ordinary—happens, then it’s not real, well, I disagree. Strongly.

Making all cuts clean and all memories unclouded, providing closure and wrapping everything up in a  nice psychologically-convenient bow—that’s what’s not real. Yes, there can be regrets and reconciliations, but the force of the regret can mutate and attempts at reconciliation can fail.

These characters have their own lives, their own integrity—at least, that’s what I want for them. And no, I don’t always understand what they do, either.

This is why I hesitate in sending my novel to my co-worker: There’s no agenda, and I don’t like the notion that there must be one, and that it must be ‘right’.

That’s the delight of the writing: Even as I lay down the words, they take off on their own.

And no, they don’t look back.




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