Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Crux of the Matter

By Amy

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.


Melissa Amateis said...

That's a wonderful gift to have - a group that you trust and who also trust you. :-)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi, Melissa, thanks for stopping by. I'm truly grateful to have my writers' group to lean on.


Melissa Amateis said...

Your blog is very inspiring! I'm glad I found it. :-)

Mrs. Z said...

So interesting. I find that I understand some of my characters much more than others too. You must be incredibly thankful for your writing group ... wish I could find one too.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks for stopping by, Shanna. You're so bold to change your entire life to pursue writing! I agree, I'm lucky to have this group. Perhaps there are some fellow students in your class with whom you could start a critique group. But not that instructor -- two books by 26? Gosh...