Are We Having Fun Yet?
(I am at Okay, it's harder than I thought but still good on this draft.)
I've had a cold, which meant, as far as I was concerned that I couldn't possibly work on my novel, but alas, I'm feeling better which means I should go back to the damn thing. I thought about working on my outline, but decided to default to my old rule of having to write two pages of the current draft before allowing myself to do anything else. I haven't quite completed my two pages, but blogging about the process somehow counts at this point, right?
So there are a lot of things I feel pretty solid about in this scene. I know the characters. One of them is loosely based on the older brother of a friend of mine in High School. I don't usually base characters on people I know, but this novel involves a high school girl. Sometimes it seemed to me that there were people I knew who were incomprehensible. Now I can look back and get a sense of them, but at the time, I found them so self-assured in aspects of the world that were pretty much opaque to me. And somehow it seems really interesting to write about someone like that--one of those older boys who were so physically fearless. And I was so fearful, of censure, of looking as foolish as I felt, of somehow derailing the process of getting to college (and therefore getting out of the small town where I lived.)
That's all informing the characters in ways that I think are making them feel lively, complex, unexpected but true.
What is so much harder for me is the problem of making the scene not only vivid, true and well written, but worth reading. It seemed to me that if it were vivid, true and well written, that should be enough, but I have come to the conclusion that perhaps there is the problem of grim. I am, in my heart of hearts, an earnest and grim writer. I think at times that reading a Maureen McHugh scene can be a little like taking your vitamins. Good for you but not, you know, the highlight of your day. (I think some of this may be a reaction to my own fears in college where I was so convinced that I wasn't getting and understanding whatever piece of literature we were reading that I invested it all with great weight. Reading literature was taxing, sometimes illuminating, but it was not fun. Fun was reserved for the stuff I read in my spare time. But now, if I want to write Real Stuff, I have a reflex to reach for grim. And yet, Chekhov is funny! Shakespeare is funny! Not all the time, but still!) So in addition to asking myself, is this technically deft, does it forward the plot, does it have dramatic tension, does it illuminate the human condition, does it tell some sort of truth, I am forced to ask myself, is it fun?
I was raised Catholic and I am ethnically still Catholic, even if I'm not religious, so my reflex reaction to this is, Life is Not an Amusement Park Ride. And yet, while I am willing to concede that not every scene in my novel needs to be fun, I think that the occasional fun moment might be called for. And at this point, it seems to me that a little levity and wit could add immensely to the scene.
Of course, staring that the page thinking, 'be witty, be witty' is probably not the most productive way to go about it.
What kind of word is 'witty' anyway?)