This post may become a series on revelations of craft that struck me in the gob like the shmuck I was before I knew any better. This week: how I learned to put a fresh spin on an old hat (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?) and how originality arises naturally from having an interesting character who doesn’t see the word the same way as everyone else. Basically: the whole point of literature. I mean hell, if you’re not doing that you might as well program your ebook compiler to replace all your words with fart noises, because that’s the only way you’ll entertain anyone.
So what kind of idiot was I before I figured out that writing a scene meant writing something new? It started with a wedding, and how much I hate them. My first novel required a wedding scene and I dreading writing it. In my head flashed all the weddings I’d seen in the movies: the costumes I’d have to describe, the happy faces, the spoken vows. The picture in my head was a wreck of smashed together cliches, and I had no idea I didn’t have to write it that way.
The need to write this scene converged with a real wedding I had to go to, for a member of my boyfriend’s family—the Jehova Witness side of his family. As we sat in the pew, trying not to be too obviously bored, the priest set on the bride-to-be with the most patronizing sermon I’ve ever heard. Allow me to paraphrase: “Harlot! Now that you’ve ensnared this man, you must set aside your evil feminine wiles. Play time is over, for you now belong to your husband, and you must obey him in all things, because he is the MAN.” And after at least half-an-hour of lecturing her about not being a slut (I am not fucking kidding), he turned to the groom and gave an exceedingly short lecture on being a responsible
slave owner husband.
Hell, my boyfriend turned to me and said, “If my [Jehova] uncle took this bullshit to heart, no wonder he’s divorced.” It was that obviously sexist and creepy. Also, they kicked his aunt out of the church and deemed her “wicked,” which goes to show how much their pseudo-Christian cult valued her compared to her husband. Anyway…
With my loathing of weddings freshly renewed, I approached the impending wedding scene with a fresh perspective. I would embrace how much weddings suck—how much this particular wedding sucked. I’d play up the farce, reveling in how much my character didn’t want to be there. It was in fact the heart of the scene, since my protagonist was watching his wife (not ex-wife—I’ll explain later) marry a younger man.
After all, what good is a fictional wedding if there’s no drama? That’s the whole bloody point. If everything went smoothly the scene would be a total yawner. Sure, I suppose a happy wedding has its place at the end of a romance novel, but I could never write one. That’s not me, and not my characters either. Nevertheless, I struggled for weeks to realize that because I thought being a good writer meant suffering through scenes you didn’t enjoy to lead people through your story in a nice orderly manner, exactly as they expected—which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what a good writer does. I mean, holy crap.by