Sunday, May 2, 2010

Live and let die

So I have to write a scene that wasn’t in previous versions of my Work In Progress. By leaving his life in the streets, Neal made a conscious decision to break contact with the women he sometimes slept with and who gave birth to his kids. He didn’t feel a strong enough attachment to them to override his need to change his life.

Now, please don’t write him off as an insensitive bastard. He happens to be a bastard but that’s a different issue ;-) I’m talking about life with a street gang. Shoot or be shot kind of thing. I’ve done reading on the subject, and it seems to be true that these guys think of women as property more than life partners. If I’m substantially wrong, I hope somebody will correct me and provide proof.

Anyway. His ex-gang tries to off him, the attempt fails. He finds out that, against his expectations, they’ve gone after his kids and their mothers. This is one of the many lessons Neal’s taught me: just because you live in the streets, does not automatically mean you are a waste of humanity. Realizing that *his family* got blown away because of him, and that those kids will never grow up, hits him the way it would hit anybody. In basic terms, he took the women and the kids for granted and now realizes what he’s lost.

But this will be the first time I write the scene where he gets the news. In order for it to be realistic, I have to feel his pain as much as he does. I did write another scene, set a couple years past this point, where Neal’s girlfriend dies in a house fire.  He knows she's upstairs and his friends stop him from looking for her because the top floor is on fire.  I listen to rock music while I write and Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” was on as I wrote that. I had to stop several times and let the velvety music soothe me. It got worse: the computer ate my first draft. Since I use my sister’s computer and she takes control of “Stanley” in the evenings, I got out my notebook and my pen and geared up to write the whole scene a second time.

The song stayed in my head and helped me recreate the mood, but wow, that was not fun. And it’s still in first draft form. Now I get to describe what it’s like to find out your little kids and their mothers have been blown away because you crossed a line. Neal’s not a normal sort of guy, otherwise I’d have a boring story. His mother ran off when he was ten and his father (his mother’s husband, anyway) died before that. He has vague memories of other kids who might have been siblings, but he suspects other relatives removed them. He’s used to not having blood family. The gang took over where relatives left off. While that gave him a sense of loyalty, it also taught him to take what he wanted and keep other people at arm’s length. Plus, at this point in the story, he’s only 18.

So, he realizes the kids are gone forever and he’s lost the only blood relatives he had. He has a new life now but no roots. He left the gang, turned his back on them, so he knew he could never go back. Wiping out the kids, though, is a viciousness he didn’t expect. It’s personal now.

If future blogs are written in a weepy voice, have some sympathy for both of us. Every time I edit, the poor characters experience it all over again, just like me. Putting him through the loss of his kids once may make both of us cry, but of course I’ve got to tweak it and twist it and go over it until it’s right.

How do you deal with writing painful scenes? Is this how the stereotype of the drunken writer got started? Talk to me about writing sorrow and what it does to you.


  1. Sounds like you're doing a great job of making Neal's life miserable. :)

    Writing emotional scenes usually wipes me out. I try to write them right before bed, because that's about all I'm good for when I'm done.

    Getting some sleep also gives me time to recharge my brain to move forward with whatever comes next in the story instead of carrying on the emotional durge that can lead to characters becoming overly angsty, lost in thought, or mopey.

    Once the emotional scene is written, going back to edit it isn't as hard as birthing the scene, in the having to go through it again sense. It becomes more like someone telling me the same tragic story over and over and I grow numb.

  2. That's fascinating! You can get numb to it? Cool. That must be really helpful; at least you can handle the editing better. Me, well I'm so caught up in my characters, I can't stop them from getting angsty and mopey. I just look at that later and say "Yeah that part's not staying, sorry dude!" ;-)

  3. Emotional scenes ARE hard to write. But it's worth it. Your emotion will come through in your writing, and your readers will feel it too.

    Me? I don't even try to cope. I enjoy the emotion--good or bad. It means we are alive to feel these things, and it means our characters are alive. It's sad, but it's good too.

  4. Hi Paint! Can I call you that? Thanks for adding your thoughts. Emotions are, after all, the driving force behind good writing. Roll with it, I say.