Wednesday, February 4, 2015


by Elizabeth

My oldest friend faced one of the worst events of her life yesterday, and today she's scheduled to celebrate a spectacular achievement, what should, and surely will be, counted among the best days of her life. I'm hoping, as is she, that she'll get through the joy of today in one piece.

Life is stranger than fiction, the saying goes, and what I write is so much less important than what any human being feels. But being a writer, thinking like a writer, both these events and their emotional weight set me thinking about how life translates onto paper. Certainly both the high and low my friend is going through would be, have been, written about in fiction (as well as non-fiction, come to think of it, over and over again), from multiple points of view. How would I write these events if they were to figure in a novel? The story changes depending on who is telling it, even as the particulars stay the same.

And then, as a writer, as a plot-deviser, there is the question of contrast.

A few things have stuck with me from the very first writing conference I attended. One was a speaker advising us to put our characters in peril, and then make it worse. I think she likened it to putting the character up in a tree, then snatching away the ladder--and then lighting the tree on fire. I understood what she was conveying, and have benefitted from the advice in my writing. But even more, I came away from that seminar with the idea that while things can always get worse, but maybe what interests me most as a writer are the moments contrast of when things are great in the midst of awful.

In the novel I'm querying, I have a character who stands to benefit in a way that would fulfill her greatest wishes--but only if her greatest fear is realized. Contrast. In my work-in-progress, a character is faced with destroying the happiness of someone she loves, and if she doesn't? Then both that person, and someone she loves even more, risk a lifetime of grief. Contrast. One of my favorite movie scenes ever is in While You Were Sleeping when Jack tells Lucy she's not his brother's type, and she aches and he aches because he can't admit she is, in fact, his type, and she hears his silence as rejection. The moment could have been a turning point for them, but instead it's a barrier, and the emotional tug, pull, yank, is because of contrast.

Life is full of contrast. Often it's terrible to live through, dampening a moment that should shine--but perhaps the shining moments make the black ones bearable. My friend's day should be all about glory and celebration, but there will be a shadow. That said, will the contrast of the wonderful she gets to revel in today temper the grief of yesterday? I hope so.

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