How’s the Book Going: p. 247

What did I say I would write about today? That’s right, the emotions of writing emotions. I may not write about that. I’m feeling pretty good at the moment—I’ve just eaten leftover spaghetti—and I don’t feel like cracking that particular patch of ice. Maybe in a bit.

The book is a romance. Romantic love drives the plot, but doesn’t necessarily dominate it. This is a category of books I’ve become competent at writing, which is interesting, because I do not think I present as a very romantic person. Though I gladly labor over the word choice of grand gestures, I personally battle with a lot of unexpressed or poorly expressed feelings. A lot of sulking and jokes to make up for the sulking. Maybe this is why I write so easily about romance; I have been stoking these narratives for years with little to no reality to poison my well. I went to grad school with the intent to write about other things. It was a very good period for my mental and physical health. I published very little.

I am slowly coming to terms with my creative relationship with love stories. I think a lot about Stephen King, though it is unlikely I will ever be as successful as Stephen King, and I don’t write like Stephen King. My point is: he knows horror is his bread and butter. Sometimes he writes beyond it, but those are the stories to which he keeps returning, to which he seems to find endlessly fascinating. Nor does it seem to matter that he has no real-life experience with demon clowns or time-traveling diner bathrooms. He doesn’t (at least I hope he doesn’t) encounter the subject of his artistic fascination outside of the bounds of his imagination, which means he can bend and expand its definition at will. A book about horror becomes a book about small towns and erasure and otherness. A book about the apocalypse becomes a book about community and storytelling and chosen families. Maybe a book above love could be a book about all the forces that create love, and vice versa. People come to Stephen King’s books to feel things. They trust him to make them care. That is all any writer could ever ask for.

In my more confident moments, I’d like to think there is a complex layering at work in this book, in which the search for romance serves as a vehicle for the main character’s self-definition, her embrace of her grief as part of a larger tapestry of everything she’s capable of. In my less confident moments, I worry I am flooding a tight premise with nonsense, and I pray the elevator pitch will hold against all the tears and navel-gazing.

Today it became very important to make one of the romantic leads more appealing. I won’t tell you which romantic lead, since it might spoil the plot, but let’s just say his only appeal so far in this first draft is that he is “unexpected.” The main character doesn’t anticipate his arrival in her life, and when he does arrive, she starts to make all sorts of hazy, lovesick decisions. Before today he had a shape, and tastes, and a general pleasantness about him, but her actions felt out of proportion to how much space he seemed to take up on the page, and by “the page,” I mean her consciousness. As a younger writer I might have revised this character by giving him a more complex backstory, or making sure his features were finely drawn, but now, especially because this book is written in first-person POV, I lean more toward expanding and complicating the feelings my MC experiences during their interactions. This is a technique I’ve gleaned from inspired literature and workshops, but I also believe this is the way we absorb and encounter our special people in life. Sure, we can create a bit of a dossier by Googling a new friend or lover, but that’s only their public-facing self. We can only know what really matters to our loved ones, and what about them that matters to us, by being with them in the moment. By measuring them in all sorts of conscious and unconscious ways.

So, I spent the morning pressing on encounters I’ve already written between the two characters. I let my MC’s mind and eyes roam in pauses in the conversation. The significant parts of his life, not to mention the parts of his physical appearance she finds appealing, emerge as their conversation escalates. I said last time I was hoping not to go backwards so much, but this filling-out felt essential and nourishing to the small amount of forward movement I made. Now that he feels more present and exciting, my MC’s actions feel more stabilized—and she’ll need this stability when conflict rides into town.

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