I’ve written before about going to the places that scare me the most.
One of the most frightening things about tackling a story is making sure I do justice to it. Have I portrayed it in a meaningful way? Will it resonate with the reader? The worst betrayal to a character I can think of is giving short shrift to the importance of their story. And it’s so easy to do.
When I was in middle school we had been given a project in shop class. I have no recollection what we were building (or in my case attempting to build).
Often times my characters are extremely capable, they wield blow-torches and hammers, they garden like champs and put furniture together with an Allen wrench (yes I capitalized Allen, come for me grammar police). This is a perfect example of what it means to be a fiction writer. Shop class was something I wanted to be good at but wasn’t.
There were many hindrances to my ability to enjoy shop, but the most significant was my terrible aversion to sand paper. Can’t look at it, see someone using it, or listen to the sound of it on wood. Yet what could be more satisfying than sanding away all the rough patches, all the imperfections, revealing the true beauty of that individual piece of wood? Applying a coat of gloss you say? I agree. Magnifying its beauty, protecting the wood, creating a shine as luminous as a new moon, must be akin to glory.
Well, I was that kid that wanted the glory without the hard work. My aversion to sanding was too much for me and I couldn’t overcome it. So I did the most perfunctory job imaginable (I think I donned work gloves four sizes too large, held the sand paper by a teeny tiny corner and waved it around for three long painful seconds, hovering right above the wood, possibly grazing it once by accident, before giving up on it completely). That’s okay I told myself, you can still apply the gloss. And I did. Five coats of it. I figured, I’ll make up for the lack of sanding by painstakingly glossing the wood. But with each coat the ridges, bumps, and imperfections grew until I had a mess of rough hideous slop on top of a two by four.
You see where I’m going with this right? All the writing polish in the world isn’t going to fix the mess I make of a character if I don’t go deep enough. Sand away at the surface until I really understand what’s going on with them, and reveal, at least to myself, whatever is underneath. I didn’t become a carpenter. I have never put together anything with an Allen wrench. And I still can’t bear to look at sand paper. But I did become a writer and no one is going to cut me any slack if I wave my fingers over the keyboard without going deep into the greatest aversions I have, and facing them head on.
This afternoon, after finally writing a paragraph from a character’s perspective that I’d been putting off all morning (my dog needed A LOT of petting, the dishwasher could not wait, the windowsills were VERY dusty, also the junk drawer was OUT OF CONTROL) I finally typed the 500 words I’d been hiding from for days. The words may stay as is, they may be honed and polished, they may be chipped away at, or they may be deleted altogether. But they remain in the story forever. They inform the character. They came from the darkest place inside her. The result is a pounding headache, a tension in my neck and shoulders, hardness in my throat, and this blog. This blog may never be read or published, but like the 500 words this morning does for my character, this blog informs me, gives a voice to what I have previously experienced in silence, and is truthful. Sometimes that is the only measure writer’s have.
Rebecca Chianese is an author living and working in New York. She is the author of two screenplays, “Daffodil Hill” and “Waltzing With My Father” which were accepted into the Hudson Valley Reading Series. Her plays, “The Session” and “That’s Life” were both produced off-broadway in NYC. Mercy is her first novel.
Rebecca was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She lives with her husband and children in the Historical Hudson Valley. Her love of reading began with the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza and she has been writing as long as she was able to hold a pencil. Walking along the Hudson River is where most of her characters come to life and boss her around until she tells their stories.