“One character (use the characters from your novel if you can) wants to come clean about a secret. The character he’s talking to cant or won’t hear it… Let them talk for several pages about important matters. Here’s the catch. No speech of one character can ever answer or even address the speech that goes before it. The speakers speak at cross-purposes. They have their own mutually exclusive agendas.”
This was my favorite exercise of Week 14 in spite of the fact that Dufresne continues to imply I don’t know what my novel is about. “Use the characters from your novel if you can”??? Uncle John, of course I can! I’m beginning to feel you and I are at cross-purposes.
“Uncle John, the novel is going great. I’m half done with it.”
“I sure wish you knew what you wanted to write about, Mame.”
“My characters are really starting to come alive.”
“What you need to do is imagine a character.”
“The setting feels real. The scenes are really taking shape.”
“Now follow that character around, see where he leads you.”
“My character’s got a goal and the action is really escalating.”
“Think about what your character wants and have him go after it.”
Ahhhhh! I keep shouting at your book that I do indeed know what my story is about, and you continue to suggest that I may not. How could anyone possibly get halfway through the process of writing a book and still not know what she’s writing it about?
But getting past the communication breakdown between teacher and student, it’s exercises like this that keep me coming back to Is Life Like This?. There are so many directions this one can take, so many pairs of characters to be matched up. Two unfaithful spouses. Mutually suspicious parent and child. Two politicians, a priest and a layman, a defense attorney and his client, a boss and her employee.
I had way too much fun pitting a tightly wound Christian who wants to kill her husband against a lesbian neighbor who wants to initiate her into a cult of sorts. You know how when you write a scene, you sometimes surprise yourself because you had no idea you were going to say that?
Now I’m a fierce editor and rewriter, so it may all get scrapped later on, but it was a refreshing change of pace to feel inspired, to write something I felt was actually good. I can sometimes be funny, poignant, ironic, poetic, and/or insightful, but sure haven’t felt any of those things in quite a while. This week I feel encouraged. I can do this novel.
And I already know what my next book is about: a novelist who writes a book but goes insane and hunts down the instructor who said she didn’t know what she wanted to write about.