The awesome John at Dreaming in Books hosted my third stop. It was the first of the scenes I wrote outside of SPLIT's narrative to try to mine the characters I was working with. I love reading John's reviews. Check out his blog.
Christian in New York
In Split, Christian, Jace’s older brother, disappeared one night when Jace was ten years old. After taking years of his father’s brutal abuse, Christian ran, relying on the hope that their dad had not, and therefore would not, hit Jace. But he was wrong. For five long years, Jace never heard a word for Christian until the night Jace finally hit his father back. When Jace shows up on Christian’s doorstep, Christian has a lot to answer for.
As a writer, it is easy to get sucked so deeply inside your protagonist’s head, that you don’t think about what is going through your secondary characters’ heads. And when that happens you end up as the puppet master and your critique groups keep saying, “I’m confused about Christian.” And then you go home and grumble to yourself that they are right. But you don’t know how to fix it.
One day, you go to your meeting in the Loft Mentor Series and Jim Moore, a poet and teacher, assigns you and your colleague a writing exercise: every day for a week, sit down in the same place, at the same time and write for 15 minutes. Write about this: 1) Take two characters who have a charged relationship and write a quiet scene between them 2) have a reoccurring object.
You decide to write from Christian’s point of view. It seems like a good fit – you hate taking precious minutes away, writing scenes that have no chance of making ink in your book, but you think 15 minutes for 7 days isn’t that bad. You only manage to get in five days. When you’re done, you have five exercises that were never meant to go into your novel. But you also have Christian’s voice. You also have the better part of a scene that ends up in the novel, after all. And you have 5 details that end up making it in the final cut of your book.
Here’s what those 75 minutes produced:
1. Jace’s nickname –Toad.
2. Why they like having breakfast for dinner.
3. Jace thinking, “He never stuck a candle in a cupcake on my birthday”
4. The Halloween that Jace and Christian went trick-or-treating that Christian tells Mirriam about.
5. Mornings where Christian would run and Jace would ride his bike.
And most, importantly, you understand why… why Christian didn’t write letters or contact Jace. This is the first in a series of three mini-scenes written from Christian’s point of view:
(Author -Mystique-buster: This is all I get in 15 minutes and first drafts are pretty bad.)
Standing at the library table, I unfold your birthday card and put it down. It sits there, open, white, waiting for ink. I scrounge a gel ink pen from my backpack and lay it beside the card.
You’ll be eleven.
What can I say? Is there anything I could write that would justify my five-month absence?
Outside the beveled glass window, I can see autumn. Every day the sun sets a little earlier, and so the trees begin to hibernate. The leaves lose their shiny green façade, showing their waning colors: reds from fire maples, yellows from ginkos and elms. The leaves flare as they go. Here, in New York, they spill out from the sidewalks onto the streets, caught in the gutters, ending up a mushy pile.
I snap the top off my pen, work it onto the back of the pen, leaving its silver tip available.
It’s your first birthday without me.
At home, mom has baked you a cake. What is it this year? Fourth birthday was a stegosaurus-shaped chocolate cake that stood up, triangular chocolate cookies for the spines sticking up down his back. She even found a candle for you that would roar when it was lit. “Once you know that frosting is glue, you can make anything” she would tell me. But last year’s was her piece d’resistance; an entire scene made from cake: a castle with chocolate leaves and a molten moat. A knight, his sword and shield gleaming with silver balls, stood facing a dragon. What have you chosen this year?
I can’t imagine.
I try to make myself sit down at the table. I pull out the chair and tell my thighs to contract. I push myself into the seat and force my hand to pick up the pen. What is your cake this year, Jace? What are your latest, greatest imaginings? Have you kissed a girl yet, or do you still turn away when dad kisses mom’s cheek before he heads out the door? Paper can’t answer my question, and a pen won’t build a bridge.
I close the card and put it in my backpack. I’ll come up with something, later , I tell myself, but I know that I’ll forget, lose the card, not have the stamp – invent some excuse because getting a birthday card after five months without a phone call, an email, even a postcard is worse than nothing. It’s hope for more, when there will be less and less. Next year, I won’t even buy a card, won’t even light a candle or look online for presents I won’t buy.
Autumn trees should just die, not hold out hope for spring.