False Notes, Or: Stop Lying to Yourself

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This week, in stolen hours, I returned to a novel for adults that I began writing last year.  I tend to work this way, which is to say that I don't start writing anything until I've already thought about at least parts of it for a very long time, and then I write as if someone is chasing me with a nasty, whomping broom, and then I stop and read with my fine and fancy blinders on, and then I imagine that the book is done (You go, girl, I say, patting myself on the back), and then a very smart and kind editor will tell me that my book, while nice in theory and all, isn't actually altogether done, and then I tuck the un-done book into a safe place (stained, I'll admit, by a few tears), and then I meditate (invisibly, you see, apparently painlessly), and then (stealth attack!) I return.

If anyone ever tells you that writing is a straightforward affair, please, for my sake, disabuse them of that notion.

In returning to this novel of mine this past week, I had an epiphany moment.  To reveal that I always have this very same epiphany, book after book after book, might leave you with the notion that I'm not a very good learner.  So be it.  The secret is out.

But here, for the record (may you learn from this, since clearly I cannot):  You cannot fool your reader.  You cannot force-fit a theme.  You cannot make your characters do anything they were not organically destined to do.  You might think you're the puppet master, but you're not.  You might think that you can tell your readers that your character is behaving in a certain way because—that you can defend his actions, tuck his rationale into poetic monologues, put a fine dramatic scene into the mix to consummate the deal—but your readers are smarter than that.  No, they will say.  Vin would have never left Becca for that.  Don't you remember who he was, where he came from?  Don't you remember what he said, back then, and what he did, when Becca was broken?  I'm so sorry, your readers will say.  But that just isn't Vin.

Don't lie to your readers.  Don't lie to yourself.  This is Beth talking to Beth this morning.  I just hope that she can hear me.


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