The Third

Inspiration comes in many forms: an evening around a bonfire drinking wine with friends can inspire me to write a story about a horrific fire that consumes a house.

Don’t ask me why a casual, lovely evening with friends would bring this to mind. For some reason, with the pine trees bending in the wind and the bonfire flickering in the calm evening, I suddenly think about who I would have to haul out of my house. I’d sip my wine and wonder if I could get to the fire extinguisher in time. The fire extinguisher sits next to our fridge and depending on where I am when the flames start to roar, it could be difficult.

After the evening with friends, morning will come and I’ll sit down and write a story about a house that goes up in flames. The main female character will be unable to get everyone out of the house and it haunts her. She becomes a fire-fighter in an effort to repent of the third glass of wine that kept her from being completely coherent.

This entire story ends up in the garbage because it’s a piece of crap.

The Gardener wasn’t like that at all. It began as a daydream and I remember hesitantly telling my husband about it. I felt awkward because the story felt weird, strange, communistic, and unlike anything I had ever thought or imagined. It made me uncomfortable.

I related the dark details to him and the more I talked, the less he did. By the end of my 30-minute explanation, his eyes were bright and his forehead was furrowed. It only furrows when he’s thinking or analyzing so this is a good thing. After a moment of silence he said, “You need to write this book.”

So, I did.

I wrote it feverishly and lovingly, sometimes waking in the middle of the night and wondering what Anna was thinking or doing. I had to remind myself that being that close to a character was license for insanity.

When I finished the book, I toasted the computer screen and felt instantly alone. Anna had suddenly vanished and she became nothing more than letters and numbers and sheets of paper.

I wonder if actors feel this way when they finish a movie? Artists when they complete a still life? Holmes when he solves a crime and reaches for his trusted cocaine to ease the absence of a challenge?

While reading a recent survey, it hit me that even though an inspiration can leave a writer exhilarated and wide awake at night, the outpouring of words can lose the essence of what was intended.

A thoughtful survey pointed out that the “formal titles of Mother and Father were a little cold.”

I had intended to portray a rigid family structure but it hadn’t crossed my mind that it would feel cold. Who wants to read a story that feels cold? And yet, I fear that I will lose the fabric of the story if I change this one feature. Should I decrease the amount of times I mention the names of the parents? It’s tempting. While writing this story, I felt that it was repetitive to write “Mother this” and “Father that”. Through all of my college lessons, I had been told to show the story, not tell it. I had hoped to show that the family relationship was formal and unnatural.

I feel that this is a worthy challenge–something to tinker with and draw from–because I have to stretch my abilities to show this story, perhaps without the chilling titles that could create reader discomfort and lose a reader’s interest before the third page.

If I rewrite the excerpt, do I have an audience to critique that as well?

Published in: on January 3, 2010 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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