Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The (occasional) joy of writing

A lot of the time I spend writing isn't fun. It's hard work. Really hard. Hard in the "why do I do this to myself?" kind of way. Hard in the "this is the last piece of fiction I'm ever going to try to write" way.

But every now and then, a moment arrives when the pieces come together in a way I didn't expect and don't control. Those moments -- when the fictional world I'm creating shows an internal consistency that tells me it's real -- are some of the best moments ever.

For instance, in a young adult novel I wrote a few years ago, I was describing a moment when the main character's free-wheeling young aunt, who comes to have surprising depth over the course of the story, is getting dressed. I realized she had a tattoo. A yin-yang tattoo. Nice detail, I thought. It suits her.

Several chapters later I'd written myself into a problem. A central issue in the novel involved the main character deciding whether she was willing to donate bone marrow for her ill brother. I didn't want there to be a lot of potential donors, but it didn't seem realistic to say no one else in the family was a match. And then -- aha! The aunt couldn't be a donor because she got hepatitis when she got her tattoo. It fit perfectly. The aunt's reckless personality made her just the sort of person who might take chances with where she went to get the tattoo.

I didn't give the aunt a tattoo so she could have hepatitis. I just tried to write an authentic character, and the pieces came together. The puzzle solved itself.

It happened again not too long ago. My character bought an Elvis CD for her grandmother for Christmas. No real reason, it just seemed like something her grandmother would like. I considered making it a Cher CD, but that didn't ring as true to me.

The teenager and her grandmother are having a hard Christmas without several people they care about. They put on the CD and try on the new clothes they've gotten each other and try to make Christmas feel merry. Suddenly, just when the tension needs to break, what comes on but Elvis singing "I'll have a blue, blue Christmas without you." They start laughing and a difficult moment passes naturally.

Again, I didn't pick the CD so they could hear that song. That came about without me in control of it.

Man, do I love when that kind of thing happens. It almost makes all those hours of slogging through the hard parts worth it.