August 19, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #6

*a continuing series based on Ten Commandments for Writers, found in Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein
6 Thou shalt infect thy reader with anxiety, stress, and tension, for those conditions that he deplores in life he relishes in fiction.
Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mocking Jay, Suzanne Collins.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey.
Princess of the Midnight Ball, Jessica Day George.
The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte.
It, Stephen King.

When I interview authors for this blog (Thursday Authorial, which will resume after my kids are back in lovely school) I always end with the same question:

If you could be a character in any book, who would you be?

Often, the person I'm interviewing hesitates, a few commenting that to put themselves in a book would mean exposing themselves to a whole lot of conflict. And yet, the favorite is chosen.

When I finished writing The Orchard, in the original ending, I left one of the characters, Elizabeth, standing on a dock, surrounded by family and strangers, utterly alone. Her character prodded and haunted my thoughts for days after and I realized I needed to give her a happy ending. I couldn't just leave her there on the dock.
So I scrawled out an outline for The Inn, punched out the story, and sighed. Then, I gave it to my writing group.

"Umm, where's the conflict? Good bones, but make me care."

Huh. Had I wanted Elizabeth's success so badly I handed it to her on a silver platter?
Practically. Which would also explain why the story was not only boring, but very short. However, short was a good thing.
Because I spent the next few weeks tearing her down, giving her choices, throwing doubt and fear and bears, yes, bears, in her path, adding another character to block her way and creating conflict and stress and tension. She had to fight for the ending I gave her, grasp for it, wrestle it from me.

It was better. I'm excited. Here's a teaser to The Inn:

The way back down was a little tricky, the trail wet in some places, clay hard in others. She was still taking in the view as she stepped, and stumbled, catching herself on Ryan’s back. He half turned and caught the rest of her with his arms.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, as she heard quiet laughter from the others. The laughter wasn’t at her fall, she knew, but at the way she and Ryan couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other in a very accidental way. She’d never blushed so much in her life, and it was starting to irritate her.
He helped her steady herself. “It’s okay.” He placed his hands on her arms and looked up. “All right?” His eyes were steel marbles in this light.
She sucked in her lips and nodded. “Perfect.” She rolled her eyes as he turned away, bringing his hand up through his hair. They started walking again and from behind she saw him take a deep breath and blow it out. Ugh. Ugh.
Back in the inn's suburban, she listened to the hum of the engine and the quiet murmurs from the backseat. Everyone was both invigorated and tired. Ryan slowed the car and they stopped to watch a moose amble through the edge of the woods. It was some distance away, but the cameras clicked. A fox jumped and ran across the field, now empty of elk. Elizabeth looked behind her. Nancy had fallen asleep.
As the car sped up, Elizabeth’s arms pulled around her waist, and she remembered she still wore Ryan’s jacket. She leaned her head against the seat and watched the scenery fly past her window. Her eyes closed and she suppressed a smile, hearing him hum an unfamiliar tune. It faded.
She was falling, fast, and could hear voices laughing, mocking. Then Ryan caught her and she looked up, but it wasn’t Ryan and she cringed away, pulling back, only to lose her balance and start falling again. This time there was a ruckus below her and again, she felt arms grab her, pulling, then wrenching.
She woke up with a start.
The voice soothed. She heard the sound of seatbelts unlatching. They were back at the inn. She furrowed her brow, stretching her shoulders. 
A bright-eyed Nancy met Elizabeth as she slid out the door. She linked her elbow through Elizabeth’s arm. “Have a good snooze?”
“I’m not sure.” It was the truth.

What are your feelings about reading or writing what you deplore in real life?

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