Thursday, September 20, 2012

The terror by night

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o'er wrought heart and bids it break.” 

Today I wrote a scene that made me cry.

A simple statement, one that might not mean much to those of you who have been writing for far longer than I.  But for me, today, this was something new.  I've dabbled in joy, in fear, in quiet happiness, in hilarity and humor.  I've written sad bits before.  I've written words that hurt part of me with each keystroke... words that were true, that dealt with a sorrow or loss in real life.  But until today, I'd never created someone else's pain. I'd never written something truly gut-wrenching, something that would tear out the heart of another person and take away something she loved.

I'd never before cried for the sake of someone I'd made.

In a way, it made me feel almost guilty.  Ashamed that I'd been so cruel to a fictional character, to a girl who exists solely in my imagination and is mine to do with as I will.  I am solely responsible for her, and today I broke her heart.

The worst of it is that something in me almost enjoyed doing it, knowing that what I'd written had touched me deeply and might someday (far down the road) touch someone else.   There was a certain sense of satisfaction as I laid down my pen, stretched my cramped fingers and surveyed the tear-dimpled pages of my rather battered notebook.  Winston Churchill's words ran through my head-- "Before you can inspire emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow.  To convince them, you must first yourself believe."

As I wrote this scene, I believed.  I was Margot, curled in the corner of a humid and stuffy tent, watching a mother comfort her baby and all the time struggling with a lurching sense of dread.  I felt everything she felt, and her tears became my tears.   I forgot to be concerned with sentimentality or over-the-top slogginess-- instead, I just forgot my surroundings and wrote everything Margot felt and saw, because it was what I was feeling and seeing.

"Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night," [Mareta] whispered, bending down to kiss Zacharias' wet and matted hair. "Nor for the arrow that flieth by day."

Bernard laid his hand over Mareta's, covering it entirely and cupping his son's head with greater gentleness than Margot had ever seen before.  His other arm slipped around Mareta's shoulders.  "Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation..."

Mareta's voice joined his, quivering a little now.  "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh... come nigh..."  She swallowed hard, but it was no use-- her voice was damp now, thick with tears.  "...come nigh thy dwelling."

~The Color of the Sky

"There is a sacredness in tears," wrote Washington Irving nearly two centuries ago.  "They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief... and unspeakable love."

My own tears flowed in the writing of this scene.  And that satisfied me.  Ironically enough, it made me happy.  Sure, the scene isn't perfect-- in fact, it's very far from that.  It needs work and revision.  It needs a firmer hand.  But for now, for the first draft, it's making me happy.  It's a drippy, sad kind of happy, but I'm happy nonetheless.  Happy with what I've written.

That's a big deal, you know.

And as I was writing it, I found myself doing something totally new.  I was writing a scene of pain and heartbreak, a scene that gripped me and gave my tear ducts a workout, an emotionally draining scene.  My very first.  And as I wrote it, I didn't waste time worrying if it was good enough.  I didn't fret over whether it might sound stupid or cliched.  I didn't brood over the possibility of it making someone (oh horrors!) laugh someday.  I didn't bother myself with any of that, because I was being swamped with the emotion of this piece, and it ended up being just what I wanted it to be.

Grief and love are so tightly intertwined in this story that I can't write about one without the other.  And they're hard to write about.  I don't mean that putting the words together is necessarily a difficult task.  I mean that making these bad things happen is hard.  At first I wasn't even sure I wanted to write this part.

But I did it.  I couldn't avoid it.  It had to be done, and I will have to do it again, for one tragic scene isn't enough for this book.  There's more to come, more that may be even worse.   And for some odd reason, I'm almost looking forward to that part yet to come.   It will be hard to write.  It will be hard to read, to change, to edit.

Yet there's a hope behind it all, the overarching presence of the One who is going to give this story a happy ending.  (Because hello.   I do not write stories without happy endings.)  Even through the tragedy and pain that socks the middle of this book, the grace of God is constant, and there is a theme that never dies.

I can't wait to explore it further.


Alexandra said...

So good! I totally know what you mean (I remember the tragedy of killing off my first character in Tori and I's first book and crying for days). There's something really emotionally impacting, something that really connects you to the story when you write tragic scenes (or see them...probably why I love tragic stuff in movies :)).

Writing David and Melissa's story has been a really personal journey, as I had to really delve deep into personal emotions that I might have wanted to avoid. When I first began writing it I worried a little bit about how I would feel writing those really deep emotions and digging deep to remember the grief and pain associated with losing a loved one to cancer. But the funny part was, it was almost a theraputic experience. Being able to put on paper the emotions I've felt in the past was kind of a freeing experience, if that doesn't sound too weird. :) I've read that writing can actually be grief therapy, and I think it's true.

Anyway, you're sooo right. I think that the author who isn't afraid to have bad stuff happen to their characters is the one that can get the most depth in their stories. And the bit btw is absolutely amazing. Can't wait to read the rest!!!

Kiri Liz said...

I think I've only ever teared up once while I was writing, and it happened to be a death scene. I had grown very attached to my character and I didn't want death to come into my story, but it was important to the plot. *sigh* But you know what they say: If the writer does not cry while writing it, the reader will not cry while reading it. Or something like that. Pretty sure I saw that on Pinterest. Why is it that site has so many usable quotes? Anywho... that's totally unrelated. If your story touches you in such a way that you do cry, chances are, your readers will be touched in the same way. Which, IMHO, is a very good thing.

Kendra E. Ardnek said...

I've never actually shed tears over something I've written, but, then, I don't really cry period. I've had several scenes that have had me on the point of tears, though, and, yes, they are mentally exhausting.

They're usually the ones where I kill a character off.

Molly said...

Oh, this was so sad! I almost cried while reading it.

Anne-girl said...

Some one hand me a tissue. I love crying over my writing. It is only when I react the way the characters do that I know I've got it right. Other times it's very hard to be sure.

Rachel (Cynthia) Heffington said...

Isn't that a powerful thing? To know you've made yourself--the most disbelieving, harshest critique--react in the way you meant? Oh yes..... fabulous! I am so happy for you, Amy!
*Jeeves hands Bertie a tissue in response to her plea above*

Mal said...

I know what you mean :) I always feel like crying when I'm reading one of the stories I wrote, but that story is my favorite one I have ever written :) I think that the real-ness of the emotions of the characters makes it more believable and interesting for the reader.

Hannah G. said...

Your writing just blows my mind. It's amazing. <3

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