Friday, March 28, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Breakthroughs

There comes a moment in your writing when something happens, an event you hadn't planned, a thread you never expected, but it's somehow woven itself onto the page and into your story. It transforms everything. It usually happens more than once, but the first or second time is so utterly unexpected, it may even make us gasp. What's been your most striking revelation on the page-- and off.

Lisa Marnell
I find lately, I discover revelations in a character's backstory. I know, for instance, my MC's mom is gruff, direct, to the point to a fault; she's not a cool parent, but she's got reason to be that way. In my young adult work in progress, she got pregnant young and poof! up in smoke went her dreams for a life larger than the small town existence that lay before her. In making the decision to keep this baby (Rose, my MC), and marry the father, the mom shows a strength of character tinged with sad regret that things should have been different.

Amy MacKinnon
When I first started writing TETHERED, my protagonist Clara buried each body with a candle. She lit the candle before she prepared each body and when she finished, blew it out and tucked it against her client's thigh. While I liked the basic imagery, it somehow lacked enough umph. It was months later while still revising that first chapter that revelation struck: undertakers are surrounded by flowers and wouldn't Clara make each gesture unique? From then on, Clara buried the dead with a flower to represent the life lived, say for the man who beat his wife, marigolds (cruelty in love) or for the outspoken sales clerk, white violets (unabashed candor). It added an entirely new layer to my protagonist and the story. And it was a delight to research.

I have news: TETHERED sold this week in Poland! Karin Schulze, the foreign rights director at Crown, has made an extraordinary effort on behalf of this book. So far, she's sold it to eight countries. Thanks, Karin.

Hannah Roveto
My protagonist loves baseball, as did his great-aunt, and it's a strong theme running throughout the book. In early drafts, the character had some basic tics and habits -- rubbing his chin, that sort of thing. Finally I realized that his restlessness is best symbolized by the constant picking up of items near him, rolling them in his hands, tilting them into position for a curveball, a fast ball, a slider. As Amy said, it was such a natural fit, that it was no surprise once I'd found it, it was fun to research, and fun to write as he plays with different items in different circumstances throughout.

Lynne Griffin
I love this topic, since I do enjoy revelations when I write. And like Amy, I gasp. There is nothing more exhilarating than the joy of discovery, when a character says or does something unexpected, so utterly spot on.

In LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER, my earliest revelation came with the seed for my novel. I read a beautiful essay musing about all the people who would be grieving the loss of a loved one who died during the tragic events of September 11, 2001; how even with similarities in the grief process, each person’s grief experience would echo in a different key. Right then the idea for my novel found its way to me. What if two women, not alike at all, handled tragedy in her life in a completely different way? How would the choices each made while grieving, strengthen relationships that were already strong or deepen the cracks in relationships long broken?

Nature is the revelation of God—Art is the revelation of man.
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Larramie said...

A writer's breakthrough becomes a reader's revelation and, thus, the joy of opening a new book.

P.S. May 8 more countries be TETHERED!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Larramie! It's so true, isn't it, what good fiction can reveal of ourselves.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Amy.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Usman.