Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why I Love Writing: Reason #1

One of the coolest things about writing fiction is that I get to make everything up. I can give my character a love of chocolate which would lead to her opening a candy shop which in turn would lead to her passions infusing the truffles she made and everyone eating them would turn passionate as well and a handsome stranger would ride into town and fall in love with her and…

…that’s not actually my book. That’s Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

Well, you get the idea. You start with one thing, add a detail, which becomes another and another and soon you have a character that feels as real as your next door neighbor. You put her in some situations and watch what happens.

And if you don’t like what happens, you change it. That, seriously, is an awesome power. You can always change things if you don’t like them. When and where else can you do that?

The personality of Meg Shanley, my character, did not change from the first time I set my fingers to the keyboard and typed her name, but what happened to her did. In the first draft of the novel, which was written about a year and a half before I sold it, and a full three years before it will be published, Meg took a train with Reggie to New York. Lucie and Reggie’s mother met them in Chicago and Reggie left and Meg continued on alone. Lots of stuff happened on that train. There was a guy and a kiss and some startling revelations, all of which took close to fifty pages.

Now, look at the final version of the book: Meg flies solo, ­off-screen. There is only the barest of references to her trip, insofar as her paying Lonnie back for the ticket.

And speaking of Lonnie, in the original draft, he was a not-so-good guy, very selfish, manipulative, not terribly supportive of Meg’s efforts in Queens. But in the final draft, Lonnie is a great guy and becomes Meg’s ally, not her enemy. That’s a pretty drastic difference in character, wouldn’t you think?

So why did these things change? Why leave out a whole portion of Meg’s trip? Why change Lonnie at all? Because, ultimately, they didn’t serve Meg’s story. You find, after you write a story, that you haven’t actually written a story. Sometimes you write around a story and sometimes extra stories - other characters’ stories - muddy things up for the main character. So, with my editor Kristen’s help, I had to focus on Meg’s story alone. I had to find her story within all the material that I had written, then I had to strip away all the stuff that didn’t pertain to her story.

In the end, Reggie and the train slowed down Meg’s journey and Lonnie being a bad guy was his story, not Meg’s. Neither served Meg and her story, as funny or poignant or clever those adventures might have been (and they were very funny, poignant and clever, if I do say so myself).

But nothing is ever wasted and I may find myself using a train, a kiss and some starting revelations in a future book.

Your Hollywood connection,