September 20th, 2006

Writing Life

I don’t believe in messing around. Yesterday, my first official day of what will and must be the final revision of my kids’ fantasy novel (until it is accepted by a publisher and I receive one of those fun 37-page single-spaced letters that tells me in one sentence how great it is—and uses the rest of the space to list 7, 052 ways I can improve it), I made a major plot change. A plot change with the implication of utter finality. (I can say no more. You’ll just have to wait to read your copy when it comes out.)


Not for the first time it occurred to me that one of the greatest pleasures of writing fiction is the power to manipulate reality. (It’s not really reality, of course. It’s fiction. But if we start that discussion it will only make our heads hurt.)


I’ve made some changes to my characters’ trajectories in past revisions. And a batch of recent character studies made me realize that there were aspects of their backstories that would change their trajectories even more. I have seeded these people’s pasts with motivation for actions I did not originally plan for them to take, and will do that some more this time around.


In this revision there will be hotter danger, more complicated relationships, knottier situations, tighter twists. And still everything will turn out fine for those who deserve it. (Wait—should I not reveal that? Oh, well—it’s not Bridge to Terabithia. Or even Lemony Snicket. Of course everything will turn out fine for those who deserve it.)


I like to think that in real life, everything turns out fine for those who deserve it, too. That the wheel of fortune keeps on rolling, and sooner or later everyone ends up on top—and maybe, just maybe, if you’re good enough at jogging in place, you can ride up there instead of slamming back down to the bottom again. (Where stuff like cancer and stockmarket crashes and infidelity fit in—well, again, let’s not make our heads hurt.)


No matter how alive it is inside my head, my fictitious world is necessarily more finite and manageable than the real world (after all, it fits inside my head!). And I’m still challenged to juggle my characters’ flaws and needs, still struggling to fit them comfortably inside the requirements of my plot. It makes me feel a little bad for God, whose job is ever so much bigger and more complicated than mine. (Of course, if I hadn’t watched “Meet Joe Black” yesterday, I might not be on this train of thought at all. And think of that—that this self-indulgent three-hour sapfest could actually put me on a train of thought! Even Anthony Hopkins couldn’t save this project. Although Brad Pitt’s comic turns kinda made the remaining 170 minutes worthwhile. “Death and taxes—what an odd pairing.” Oh my.)


Still—we’re each the authors of our own stories, aren’t we? (I’m back to real life again.) We can’t control the other characters in our plots, but we can control how we interact with them, how we react to them, how we perceive them and ourselves. And maybe, just maybe, we can write our own happy ending because of it.


(Okay, seriously. No more earnestness for at least the rest of the month.)