26 May 2006

Here's a two-ton heavy thing.

So I'm creeping through chapter 16 of the Symphonians novel, which is the first chapter of part 2. So obviously I haven't gotten very far very fast. But! I am getting somewhere, emotionally.

I've been once again going over the background between Kay and Carter, which is based on a relationship between me and this other guy a long time ago. (It ended ... poorly.) My sour view of this relationship is part of the reason my novel bounced back to me; it doesn't fit in with Kay's generous, friends-above-all worldview I'd so carefully built up in the first half. Mainly because Miss Hindsight-Is-20/20 is going, "The man is evil! EEEEEEvilllll!"

Basing a book on a previous relationship that ended ... badly ... is tricky. Of course, everything about the man must be changed to avoid libel suits. (Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird recommends giving the male character a tiny penis so he will never come forward.) But what really trips you up is the Voice of Experience crying "EEEEEEvillll!" This, obviously, doesn't do a lot for character development, or plot development, and then your MC becomes unsympathetic because she hates the guy's guts, whereas it's actually the author busting through the page, declaiming, "Oh how I hate this guy's guts!"

If the character was actually a decent guy, you're not going to want to look at that. If he and the MC had good times, and they went smoochy smoocy and it was nice, there ain't no way you're going to want to take a look at that. Because the man was EEEEEEVillllll and that's all there is to it.

Grandpa Simpson: It's evil! EEEEEEEvil!
Bart: Grandpa, you always say that.
Grandpa Simpson (sadly): I just want attention.

So last week, when I started digging through the old journal and letters, I started wishing I had a journal that I'd given to the man. Instead of writing in my regular journal, I wrote in a special journal and I gave it to him.


But too bad so sad, like I'm going to waltz into this guy's life and say, "Hi, I'm the evil one who broke your heart, now give me that journal I gave you about 16 years ago."

Even though I want to.

But that would be dumb.

Funny, "I Wish It Would Rain Down" by Phil Collins came on. That was on the radio toward the end of our relationship, spring of '90, and I felt sorry that I'd been trying to leave him, so obviously I didn't hate him all the time as my story insists, and obviously I felt a lot of kindness toward him because he was a friend and he did help me, at least there at the beginning. So I need to focus on these things more. Those kinds of feelings and attitudes are closer to the feelings and attitudes of Kay in the book's first half, so I really need to stay true to them.

But damn, that journal would have helped a lot with that. Since the journal I kept doesn't have a whole lot in it until it starts all going to hell.

Still, there is hope. This afternoon I was reviewing a memory of a day, early in the relationship, when we were having fun together, and I actually remembered what it felt like when I was happy with him. Even though now, when I write "happy with him," I am not comfortable with feeling happy with him. It goes against all the defenses I've been piling up over the years.

It's a start, though. Let's see if I can do this poor guy some justice. It's only fair, since I bash the heck out of him later in the book!

But seriously, it is important to make the Carter character lovable. If Kay loves him (as a friend), and the reader loves him, then it's going to be that much harder for them to break away from him. It's got to tear her up and it's got to tear the reader up. She can't love him, but her code of honor says, Never abandon a friend.

So that's what I'm doing with chapter 16. I've been adding in a lot of scenes to further establish their relationship and also to give the reader some sense of why she's wanting to leave him later on -- I have him stalking her at a dance, which actually happened to me but with some different guy.

On the i-Pod: "Same Old River" -- Sam Bush


ipgirl said...

Hey Melinda,

I read your post about how your actual relationship (which ended badly) makes it hard to write convincingly about Kay’s with Carter. I felt that too when reading the second half. I could see the painful, lonely emotional desperation of Carter’s sometimes mirrored Kay’s isolation. But, where Kay kept herself strong with humor and self-insight, Carter became a “poor me” hystrionic drama-boy who failed to see ‘how others see him’ and was also completely self-involved. I think maybe what you need to do is show how Kay warmed up to this emotionally unsteady Carter because he did mirror her own pain in some ways but then also made her realize that his neediness was not the way to reach out, it was not what relationships are supposed to be. Have Kay realize this through episodes with Carter. But at the same time try show the trust formed between Kay and Carter during the early part of their dating, that “moment” when you feel like you understand where someone is coming from, and then once you have that “moment” later on you can show how painful it is when that trust is broken. Right now you make it seem like Kay just sort of lets Carter in and the development of the romance is not described AT ALL. I think I wrote in the margins about the lack of Kay’s first kiss, the way that Carter must have wooed Kay by taking her on nice dinner dates and having those “deep” discussions about emotions (it certainly overwhelmed me with happiness when, as a teenager, I finally met a guy who not only took me to real restaurants but could also talk candidly about his feelings!!! Even though he did end up being a bit of a player)

The other thing I wonder about in the second half is Kay’s plans about her life and relationship with her family. There’s this fractured relationship with her pragmatic (and dogmatic) mom who’s telling her to give up music, give up writing and then Kay goes off to college with no resolution. What happened to her grandfather? Does her sister get nicer? What does Kay think about writing even after Carter destroys the Symphonians?

Melinda said...

Hey Ippy --

That's right, I do have that mirror thing with Kay and Carter going on! I forgot about that.

I think I'm working on that buildup of trust, and since you've mentioned it I'm definitely going to check to make sure I do. You have some good points in your post; thanks! Probably helped save on postage, too. (grin)

That last paragraph is going to be harder to work on. Well, besides that her grandpa had died in Ch. 6. But that thing with her mom, I'm still trying to figure out how to resolve it, or at least resolve it in Kay's mind.

With the Symphonians -- you think Kay needs to spend a little more time going, "I will not be stopped from writing! I will remake this book!"

Dogmatic ... I need to look up that word. I think it may come in handy later.

Thanks for such a good critique. Hey, another reader's report, this is great!