“Everyone came to the party, even those who were not invited,” reads the line in chapter eight of my novel that introduces a pivotal scene.
It’s a line from real life. In fact, I’ve just uttered those same words, as I prepare for an upcoming gathering of friends. Of course, I used the present tense, and added in a passing moment of panic, “Where will we put them all?”
Now, lots of things can happen when people gather for pleasure, which is why I included the scene. My husband and I went, for example, from being friends to more-than-that at a Christmas party. My roommate and I had given the party in our college dorm room, a converted lounge. We hauled in a tree, strung it with lights, and hung chocolates from the branches. And there was my future husband, stretched out under it, catching the dripping chocolate in his mouth.
In the fictional party scene, I wanted all of it, the uncertainty and the possibilities, every party I’ve ever given pinned in words: the swish of taffeta, the crack of laughter, the indiscretions told in the corner. I wanted to touch it. And taste it. And smell the cologne and cigar smoke. If my characters were to confirm their love for each other, surely it would be in this scene.
Did I succeed in capturing this experience on the page?
Perfectly, or so the self-pitying me believed, for just when I’d finished, the entire file disappeared, snatched away by the computer Gods with the exception—true story—of one line, the opening line.
“Everyone came to the party . . .” The words just sat there, naked on the page.
“Don’t worry,” my husband said. “It will be better next time you write it.”
And it was.
The lessons here multiply:
1. Everything comes from real life, even the make believe. The so-called line between fiction and nonfiction is really just a piece of scrim, and you, the writer, can always see through it.
2. If you can possibly manage it, include a cheerful scene, pivotal or not, for even in the most serious stories, your reader needs a break.
3. If you have to start over, it might go easier next time and may even turn out better, as we tend to remember only the good parts.
Chapter nine begins “For the next few days we cleaned, coming across lipsticks and stained napkins under pillows and glasses tucked in odd places—even in the hen house . . .”
That part comes from real life too, only no hen house. But the screened-in porch, the wood pile, the beach? Well, we’ll see what turns up in the morning.
Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: ornament by Burger Baroness/Jessica Rossi; bird by Vitamin Sea.