The others came to me quickly, easily. Clara was guileless, sharing all of her self through intense conversations that would last long into the night; unexpected considering how life had hollowed her out. When I woke, she’d resume talking in that melancholy way of hers, just a hint of a Rhode Island accent rolling off of her R’s. She needed me to tell her story.
Linus was a more patient conversationalist. He would wait until I settled myself on my ancient desk chair, a cup of coffee warming my hands, and then he’d start, Where was I now? Oh, yes… It never took long to write his chapters, I copied them verbatim as he spoke.
But Mike wasn’t used to sharing the particulars of his life. Not with anyone, not anymore. He was guarded, a ghost of the man he used to be. We, Mike and I, weren’t close friends; our talks weren’t conversations, but interviews. I would ask him questions and he would offer up one word answers. I’d have to ask him the same question cloaked as something altogether different to draw out a few more words or expression of sentiment.
Each of my characters needed to tell their stories from their points-of-view and while Clara and Linus were eager, Mike didn’t trust me. As a result, I didn’t trust his chapters.
When I announced at writers’ group that I was considering deleting Mike’s sections, I was more than halfway through the manuscript then, I remember Lynne waving her hand.
“But I don’t think they’re working,” I said.
“Oh, they’re working,” Lynne replied. Both Lisa and Hannah nodded their agreement.
They trusted Mike and, because I trusted my writers’ group, Mike’s chapters stayed. Months later as I neared the final pages of my manuscript, I was grateful to have had that trust in my writers’ group. Contained within those last pages was a passage only Mike could tell. If I hadn’t listened to my writers group, trusted their judgment in a character who made me earn his trust, I don’t know if my story would have had as satisfying an end.
Don't misunderstand, it wasn't a matter of trusting the instincts of my writers' group over my own, it's more complicated than that. I believe my writer friends trusted me to tell the story, trusted that I would find my way through the thicket that is the middle of a novel. Or maybe they trusted that I could fix a narrative if it didn't work after all.
And that's crux of a good writers' group, isn't it, trust.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007