I wrote a few days ago about the worry I had early on about my protagonist being a carbon copy of me, and how I have come to understand and accepted that our characters are always going to be flavored with aspects of ourselves.
One morning session I took one tiny memory from my life and built the day's scene around it. I was still trying to figure out what Astrid's story was and so I wrote something very different from my own experience with one single strand from my life. It proved to be a really difficult moment of writing. I'd written a little too close to the truth for myself. I texted Tammy and shed a few tears. The emotions this writing had brought up felt big and hard to shake off. She comforted me, cheered me on, and I moved on with my writing and my day.
It turned out to be a really useful exercise. As I've suggested before, the words we choose never to let see the light of day can guide our story and character development as much as the words that make the final cut.
What resulted from that morning of sad writing was that I made important decisions about who my character was not going to be, which is just as instructive as the words that were pointing me in the direction of who she would be. In the morning's writing, I determined her mother's story, which was necessary in planning out what Astrid's story would be too.
Here's that morning's outtake.
“Be appropriate.” Astrid heard these words ping-pong around her head as she lay on her back and looked up at the ceiling fan gently moving the coastal air around the room. She was wearing one of Jeff's crisp button down shirts now massively wrinkled.
They had made love at sunset and once the sun was down and the excitement was over, she'd begun to shiver. Jeff had put the shirt on her and wrapped her in his arms to warm her. It was a lovely gesture and she had warmed up, but something was missing. She couldn't put her finger on it.
Now the morning sun was pouring through the room. She was on a long weekend away and her mother's voice and admonitions had followed her to the beach. Typical.
She sat up and looked around the room. Jeff's running shoes weren't by the door. His training never took a break not even on an island getaway. She got up, walked to the balcony and took in the view. She breathed in the ocean air, raised her arms above her head and saluted the sun. She turned around and walked into the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, she wondered what was her best approach to turning off the voice in her head.
She was an adult, but her mother didn't see it that way. In two words, this woman could undermine the confidence Astrid worked hard to cultivate.
She washed her hands, dried them on Jeff's shirt, and ran her fingers through her hair. She needed a trim.
She walked back to the bed, grabbed her journal from the bedside table and opened it to a blank page.
August 2, 1998 What in the world am I going to do with Jeff? He's lovely. He's kind. We talk a lot about running. He hasn't quite figured out that I don't share his love of running or accounting. On paper he's such a catch. Why am I here? Why did I agree to come on this trip? Am I being appropriate? Am I disappointing her? Could I please live one day without worrying about that?
The door of the room opened and a sweaty, smiling Jeff entered holding a tray with two smoothies and a plate of wholewheat toast.
Shit, I can't even enjoy the beach or the boy...