Tag Archives: character development

Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said

Running man

Some of you may know that I participate in a variety of writers’ groups online, which has been fabulous company and motivation as I pound through novel revisions this summer.

Novel Revision Process

I haven’t been posting about my writing process as often as I did last year, but regular readers may know that part of my obstacle is that I’ve taken on a daunting but very thorough revision process: rather than just continue tweaking draft 4-5, which I’d worked on through the winter, I am fully retyping the current draft. It has been an extremely effective process… but s-l-o-w, in the sense that it’s August 1 and I only have 24, 700 words in (last winter’s ms was 176,000).

What has been particularly exciting about the process is it has benefitted from the concentrated power of scenes written later in my understanding of the story, and I’ve been really excited, in particular, about the layer of meaning that have come about from expanding viewpoints.

I have been sharing about this regularly on Twitter (#SumNovRev), within Facebook groups and during daily writing activities at TeachersWrite! but have posted little about it here.

Sharing an Excerpt of the Work in Process

Teachers Write 2013 ButtonThat said, today I am sharing an extended scene from the last third of my novel in progress, Never Said. (I shared a short excerpt from this as part of Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback; revision to this scene was prompted by character description activity on Kate Messner’s blog for TeachersWrite.)

About the Excerpt

Michael Roonan is an elusive main character as the novel takes place at a point in his life when he appears resigned to his own death despite the community around him absolving him from blame. He goes along with his best friend’s insistence that he go on the run, but there’s the unspoken undercurrent that he doesn’t disagree with the man who is after him (Sean).  This excerpt is from Sean’s POV, but really is lead up to the reveal of secrets Roonan has been keeping all along.

I’ve written before about how I like to play around with POV, writing from several different viewpoints as I discover a story. This antagonist, Sean, was a fun surprise, as he had insights I hadn’t thought of.  (Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict).

 

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Excerpt from Never Said

(The following is an excerpt from an unpublished novel. Do no copy or use without express written permission from Elissa Field.)

Sean saw the back of Michael Roonan’s head from a distance, across the thin stream that split the village center.  Mick turned toward the marketplace on the other side of the stone bridge. Wind lifted his hair and Sean saw his face in full profile. Definitely him. His hair was heavy, coarse with the filth of a man on the run. It calmed his anger to know Mick ran, no matter what he’d said. His hair grown out like the mane of a horse, so unlike himself.

Unrecognizable from the man he’d last met on the jetty south of Wicklow, when he’d watched Mick dive off the stern of a trawler, knowing he was avoiding the Garda whose lights flickered fierce off the roofs of their cars, parked in jackknifed formation at the entrance to the docks. Sean had grinned at him, unseen: They’re not for you, Mick. It’s a body washed up against the headwall. Coppers wandered bored as farm dogs, no hints yet if it were a murder or just a ferry jumper or a man washed overboard. So tedious, waiting on coroners.

He followed the intermittent bob of Mick’s head beyond the concrete breakers, carried far south by the inlet currents. He might have drowned, another body to be fished out, but sputtered out of the surf along the strand amid coarse grasses and weekend strollers. Sean watched him collapse. Waited. Mick pulled himself to sit facing out to sea as if what chased him was yet panting in the frothing waves. Not behind him in the car park, where Sean  leaned back for a smoke. A think.

Shells or stones – he couldn’t see from this distance – rattled in the waves with a sound like dried bones. Mick’s hair was buzzed military-short, then. More stark than months Sean had seen him reported, imprisoned in isolation for all the players who wanted him dead.

This little man. Hunched along the shore line, thin thread of light blazing brilliant beneath the oyster shell gradations of the sky.

Water and sand fell from his shirt when he stood. He brushed kelp from his shoulder. Otter of a survivor. One summer in Ridell, there’d been one of the younger brothers – he was sure it was Mick –pulled in an undertow jumping off the tower at Blackrock. The black shadow of his head, like the back of a turtle or a skate, pulling deeper and sideways along the Irish Sea bottom that would be exposed, smelly with the decay of exposed mussels and whelks at low tide. Sean was the one to dive for him, a bolt through the current, wrenching him to the surface. Clear vomit of seawater sprayed over his forearm as he held the boy’s chin in the crook of his elbow, rolling onto his back, the boy buoyed on his chest as he waited out the current to let them go. The little brother’s head gagged and sputtered and cried, gasping for air. Struggled to get free, to swim, not knowing all you could do is relent and float until the current gave you up. “Easy,” he’d told the top of the boy’s head, fixing his face to the sky. “Look, there. See the gulls? How many is that?”

He was sure it was Mick. The Roonan son who covered his ears at the high engine whine of his father passing in a race, even as others took pictures or shook their fists to cheer.

There was no rush. Wait him out.

Mick’s head was down when Sean came upon him, nearly dried, on a bench along the roadside not quite into the adjoining village. Mick said, without looking up, without surprise, “How is it going for you, Sean? I’d heard you were out.” It was barely discernible: the faint shift of posture to check peripheral vision, clear enough one wolf to another, to be certain Sean was alone.

“You killed Stephen.”

There was a long silence. Cars passed, their headlights bilious green in the odd fog come in from the sea. That color got to him, always – color of the dead boy in the canal – and he wanted to shake Mick, to shake the whole world, the way Man and Ulster vibrated in the high-revved videos of Gerry Roonan at 200 miles per hour. How did Mick take this for granted? How did he not know how lucky he was, for what he had? Him and Stevie: they’d be famous racers, just like their da. What hate makes you blow that all apart? For what? Not even a cause.

Mick turned fully to him, no avoidance in his eyes. “I killed Stephen.”

“What the fuck, Mick. Can’t you even deny it to me?.. Why? Why would you do that to your own brother?”

Roonan didn’t answer that. Not yet. “How did you know?”

“I watched you. I saw you do it, you stupid fuck. Watched… I saw him…”

Both were in it, then. Graphic memory. Two men, brothers to Stephen in different ways, watching from opposite sides as the universe sucked inward on Stephen then exploded infinitely outward. The only two to have seen it plainly, true. Night stills for them as it does in sacred moments, letting damnation seep in.

“Why the fuck did you do it?”

A man climbs fully inside his eyes when come upon his truths. Sean knew as he stared into Mick’s face waiting for an answer: it was there. Mick was walking around inside it as if visiting an old room, testing what was remembered, what was broken, what was new. He wanted to punch him, deflate silence by crushing his head like a collapsed football. Fury at such deliberation, such unhurried reflection. Michael was a big man now: past twenty-two Sean guessed, strong from pulling nets on the trawler, taller than Stevie would have been. He’d heard stories of Roonan crushing an undercover cop’s head against a rock to stop the man from beating an informant. He’d heard rumors of his calm shadow in a doorway being enough to scare off provo gunners.

“You need to run, Mick.”

The man’s eyes rose to his face, but he was not there. Somewhere else, some other time, and a chill went through Sean. Remembering the boy in the hedgerow, when Rodgers hit the tree. Sean and Stevie and Mick were the first to the body, the racer’s attached hand still opening and closing in a fist, as his severed arm was further down across the road. The man’s eyes met their three faces through his visor, pleading for help. Mick would have been just eight when he heard that first gasping groan of a body giving up life, and his father’s road racer had passed them just after, front wheel lifting in the air at the surprise of finding Rodgers’ spent machine broken apart across the road, then whining away up Perry’s Hill.

He did not give away the gun tucked into his waistband. Did not acknowledge he could pick up a rock or that broken sign post just feet away and bash his skull. Could have done it then, that evening, as the high pressure sodium lighting came on over their heads, lighting them in a glow as if good friends reminiscing before walking home from the pub. He said as if he had yet to make a plan, so Mick had the benefit of a warning: “You need to run, because I’ll have you dead for it.”

Mick had stood. His feet were bare, having kicked off his white rubber fishermen’s boots when they filled like anchors with the sea. He looked up and down the street like an animal dropped from a car, dazed and recalibrating for home. He took a step toward the street to read a sign, he looked back to the car park where he calculated Sean’s car was parked. “I know you will,” he said to Sean. “But I won’t run. Not when you come.” Mick met the man’s eyes, held them to be certain Sean understood, and he’d walked off slowly in the direction of the main road.

If you want to share your feedback in the comments: 

If anything resounds with you, do click “like” or leave me a comment to let me know what you liked — it’s hard and lonely work, so I will love you forever for any encouragement. Seriously. Of course, the impact may be lost a little,  since this piece is from 2/3 through the book, and some details may reference earlier chapters (for ex: “hedgerow” is a frequent reference to where the boys stood when watching Roonan’s father race motorcycles) — but still, find kind words to let me know if any of the scene didn’t work for you and why.

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What About You?

What are you working on this week? Are their aspects of your writing process or writing community that help you get it finished?

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More on this site:

No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

 

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Novel Writing, Relentless Wake, Writing Process & Routine

Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict

Running manOne of the great things about my online writing community is the way we keep each other motivated, often in ways we don’t expect.  Last week, I shared how it had motivated me to re-set my 2014 goals after I shared a brief excerpt of Wake and gotten feedback that pushed me to think, to have confidence and above all, “Keep going.”

My 500 wordsToday’s post is sort of Jeff Goins’ fault, as the day 19 prompt at his 500 words challenge was to write in another voice. So it is I spent the day evaluating a process I have been going through in deepening internal motivation of a novel character.

This post serves as follow up to several novel revision articles posted over the past year. I’ll include the relevant links to individual revision steps for anyone looking for more on the revision process.

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Revision in Process: Internal Motivation of a Main Character

Throughout my series of posts on Novel Revision last summer (this link takes you to all posts on Novel Revision, or find links to individual skills within this post), I revealed how deeply I felt the need to push my main character, Carinne (Revising a Flat Character).

Motivation for the male protagonist, Michael Roonan, was clear from the get-go. He’s killed people; guilt and loss compel his self-castigation. But, in early versions, Carinne’s written motivation was only that she was getting out of a bad marriage and she fell in love with Roonan.

Expressive eyes of Gerard Butler. (celebs101.com)

Expressive eyes of Gerard Butler. (celebs101.com)

Truth: as I wrote about in Can Literary Fiction Be Hot, the romantic element is often the most compelling and memorable aspect of fiction that sticks with us.  Still… My gut told me there had to be more to her motivation than “failed marriage” and “he’s hot.”  Kind of lame motivation, right?  Too thin, too predictable, too linear.

Many of my novel revision posts have shared the ways I’ve challenged my own understanding of Carinne and character motivation because, one way or another, my gut told me that I knew something more about her than I had written.  (Did you pick up on that when I distinguished her “written” motivation, above?)  But I needed to go deep to put it into words, and part of that included distancing the character from my own experience.

copyright Elissa Field; all rights reserved, no repro without written permission

Father and son. copyright Elissa Field

The eye-opener was in an exercise I completed (October Challenge: Raising the Stakes on Character Motivation), where I kept assessing and re-assessing stakes for the internal conflict of the main characters.  For Carinne, the written stakes were only whether she raised her son alone or if she could get her lover back with her. Then I realized it wasn’t her own stakes that drove her, but those of the little boy, Liam, she had conceived with Roonan.  The driving motivation to go find Roonan had to come from a place beyond romance — she was off to find him so that her son would not grow up without a father.

Along the same time, I wrote last summer that I had come to understand a crucial backstory for Carinne that distances her from myself.

This is something I have not written about, but have felt deeply in the year and a half since a young photojournalist went missing on assignment.  His last tweet — from a birthday celebration with friends — and the pride in photographs he shared in his online portfolio — have stuck with me as an eerie, disembodied voice over the months his parents and sister worked through international channels to discover what happened to him.  As much as the news speaks of military or civilian losses, lost journalists has been a major piece in international affairs of the past 20 years.

The thing with this novel I am writing is, it has to do with why people get involved in violent international affairs. Roonan became a murderer while doing everything he could to avoid involvement in paramilitary activity in his family’s Irish border town. Carinne meets him years after the violence, finding the ghost of the man. A failed marriage is not her motivation; I quickly wrote that out of the early draft.  Carinne came to life for me last summer when I stopped apologizing and making excuses for her and let her behavior be entirely contrary — then let the missing reporter be the loss that drove her chaotic behavior.

True Revision Can be Messy

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

I began last summer’s revision-series with a post titled Work is Messy, Book May Bite.

What a mess new motivation makes of a draft, but slowly the 2 internal storylines have been laying themselves out clearly in parallel to one another, as the external conflict brings the story to resolution that genuinely resounds with meaning, as Carinne unites father and son.  Yeah, okay: it can be romantically hot, too, but the resolution now resounds on a more universal level.

I once watched my stepmother unravel a month’s worth of knitting to correct a missed stitch in a complicated fisherman-knit afghan, and I couldn’t believe the patience and insistence on perfection it took for her to do that.  Taking apart this main character, Carinne, has felt like all that unraveling — pulling the whole novel apart and putting it back together.  But I knew in my gut that it wasn’t “there” yet.  I love the characters and their story, but I just knew that the resolution of an international conflict could not be just romantic happily-ever-after. The little boy was symbolic of something in the opening, and he had to be the core of the resolution, as symbol of something greater for the novel to resound.

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The Work in Process

That’s a lot of thinking out loud.  How does it play out?  One approach that brought me closer to understanding the mother’s motivation was to write scenes from the child’s perspective.

In final revisions, I’ll be deciding between a close-omniscient or alternating third person narrative structure, which means I am not yet sure if I will keep the boy’s voice or just let it inform the mother’s perspective.  But, for the sake of sharing a piece of the writing process, here is the scene I shared at Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback last week.

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Excerpt from Work in Progress, Where the Wolves Find Us (nicknamed Wake)

Context:  This excerpt is from a rough draft rethinking an opening scene from the son, Liam’s, perspective. The novel opens with the mother (Carinne) finding her son burying something in the back yard. As Carinne is in the process of washing mud from his hands, he asks, essentially for the first time, if his father is dead.  This becomes the inciting event; by the end of the chapter, Carinne is searching for the missing father.  The drafted scene below is from a long riff that came out when I took time to see “life with his mother” from Liam’s perspective. What would he see, hear or feel, growing up with a mother isolated and obsessed with missing people?

His mother’s shoulder was warm against Liam’s back, the water glittering beneath the sink-light as she sudsed his hands. He clapped his hands so bubbles sprayed and he tracked them, her voice murmuring in his ear as each iridescent orb floated up and sideways and down, each at its own rate so that his eyes measured them as if racers toward a finish line. Plik! Hope. Plik! Each popped, no matter he’d resisted the urge to touch them. Each, in its own path, flicked a mini explosion of its membrane and ceased to exist in the vacant spans of light.

Carinne’s voice reached a pitch – Liam’s feet had kicked dishes stacked in the sink – then went silent, replaced by the constant curt voice of men and women from the television playing in the next room. News. Always the news, and he hated it.

He patted suds onto her cheek. She took it as a joke, laughing, her eyes smiling at his.  He hit her again,  harder, wanting it to stop: the man chopping news into his head.  An airport. A warning. A plane stopped along a runway. Heads talking. The plane. More heads. A fire truck.  She would look: study the stream of words at the bottom. Flip three channels forward, pausing on each. Each, more news. Then back.  Even she didn’t care, he could tell. She took in what was happening the same way she studied the noise of trash men arriving for the blue bins or the neighbor’s garage door motor starting: look to the noise, see it for what it was, and disregard it as not affecting them.  But most hours of the day, he could not make her change the channel.  “Just let me see what’s happening overseas,” she would tell him, “Then we’ll change it.”

She corrects him now, “We don’t hit!” gripping his hands together in her own as if for prayer. He twists his head away and pulls his hands. “Hands are not for hitting,” she recites.

He says very quietly, as if to an unseeable friend, “I hate the news.”

She lets go, relieved. The smack makes sense, as it hadn’t a second ago. He leans into her shoulder, his dried hand reaching along the back of her neck to where her hair is softest, her baby again. “I hate it, too,” she says.

She will change the channel, this time, but he doesn’t believe she hates it. The firemen spraying foam on the plane by the runway did not interest her, but other times she has watched the same repeating footage, over and over.  A black uniformed policeman being interviewed in a mist of rain, dark clouds rising behind him.  A white SUV driving between sand-colored buildings in a cloud of dust behind a reporter cloaked with a checkered scarf. Over and over, she might watch these. Study the images to the corners of the screen. Study faces blurred in the background. Over and over. Then flip channels in hope to see the same scene from another angle.  Not notice the stack he’d made of his cars: three tall, now four, his eyes widening, willing them not to topple.  His mother frozen silent, remote clenched in her hand. Sometimes tears. He hated it as she did not. So easily, she could have flipped to another channel. Thomas the Train. Even Dora.

“I hate the men,” he said once.

She had turned away from him like she did when he broke something and she was mad even though she said she wasn’t.  “Never hate the men,” she said.  She left the room, crying and trying to hide it from him, as if these men were her own friends, her family, as the empty house of the two of them showed no sign of.

Have Feedback?

Of course this piece is in draft form and out of context, but constructive feedback is welcome.  I am on the fence whether it is helpful to actually use the child’s voice, as I think it would be tough for a toddler to carry the opening voice of an adult novel. Would you try to use his voice, or just let his insight inform the mother’s POV?  Hmm.

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What About You?

Are you revising fiction this week?  What challenges do you run into or what has worked well for you? If you’ve also been sharing your work or revision strategies, feel free to add your links or comments below.

Are you exploring issues of conflict or stakes in a character you are writing?  What challenges or obstacles do you find?  Or, what tactics have you found that get you more authentically or deeply into your characters’ motivation?

For more posts on this site related to character development:

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Novel Writing, Relentless Wake, Revision, Writing Character, Writing Process & Routine