Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Living In the Dark Places

Sunday afternoon was gorgeous here. Mid-80s with bright sun and a warm breeze. The birds were singing and the puppy was chasing bumblebees (which is his new favorite past time, something I'm guessing will fall far down on his list of favorites the first time he catches one), and I decided to catch up on some writing.

The kids were playing in my usual writing space, so I took my laptop out to my front porch to enjoy the weather while I wrote. The section of writing I'm working on is probably the hardest part in the book to write: the aftermath of a murder – and I thought the bright sun would balance the darkness of the book.

As is typical, the kids gradually discovered I was missing and came to find me. They are like moths to a flame when I'm writing. No matter where I go to get some quiet, they manage to seek me out to play around me anyway. As a writer, that's frustrating. As a mom, it's kinda cool.

So my two bookend kids decided to ride bikes, and my middle child decided to read a book on the bench next to me: a book she had just borrowed from the library the day before.

I'd warned her it was probably too easy for her. The problem with her is that she's a fourth grader reading at a sixth grade level, and books at her level aren't really her subject cup-of-tea. She like the things written for her age. So she sat and read and I wrote, and in less than 30 minutes she'd finished the book. THE WHOLE BOOK!! 

And you know what my first reaction was? Not "Wow! Good job!"  Not "You're an awesome reader!" 

No, my first response was: "Do you know how long it probably took that author to write that book? It probably took her longer to write the first page than it took you to read the whole thing!"

She rolled her eyes at me and decided to go ride her bike.

But this is where I am right now, in that middle ground between writing like a writer, and writing like a reader.

My book has a dark part. A murder. It's not the crux of the book. It's a turning point but not the central part. This is not a crime book or mystery book. And my hope is that when a reader reads it, they will flit over these pages so they are but a drop in the bucket of the story. They won't wallow in the darkness of it but it will merely be a catalyst for getting on in the journey of the main characters.

And yet.... as a writer, it takes more than flitting to make the pages work. Everything in me is screaming, "get in, get out!" as I'm writing it. I don't want to stay in this place anymore than my characters do.

I started having nightmares about it two nights ago. Gory, terrible, graphic nightmares. And I woke up and thought, I have to change the murder weapon. Not that the reader will care. Not that the reader will even know what the murder weapon is (I haven't decided how in depth to go about the deaths...I'd like to keep it more to the characters that live and less about the crime). But I know. I care. And even though I'd already decided what happened, I changed my mind because I couldn't live in that space while writing it.  Even if it takes the reader only minutes to read those sections of the book, it is taking me longer to write them, to research them, to make sure I'm getting the details right.

My hope is, if I do it right, the reader will get the weight of the scene, but not stay there.

As for me, I'm hoping to be over this scene today or tomorrow and move on as well. After all, this gorgeous spring weather can only last so long.


  1. How can you write a murder mystery if it gives you nightmares?

  2. It's sounds contradictory, doesn't it Debbie? But it's not a murder mystery book. The murder occurs to peripheral characters, and the suspect is caught quickly, so there's no real mystery.

    The reason it's there is because the main characters need this to propel their own personal journey.

    And frankly I didn't know it was going to give me nightmares! I've read plenty of murder books and never had a problem. I think it was researching blood spatter patterns and seeing crime scene photos that put me over the edge on this one. And creating the scene is very different than reading about it.

    At least, that's what I hope it will be for the readers!

  3. I hope you get this scene done! I've only had good dreams about books I've written, which makes me happy. It also makes me yearn to visit my characters and elaborate on their lives. A good thing!

  4. I hope I didn't prompt your bad dreams! Sorry!

    I can totally relate to this - I've had nightmares about my murder scenes for a few years now. Maybe that is why I'm SO ready to finish this book.

    Yeah - it's funny - how much work goes into a scene a reader will finish in a matter of seconds. And I have had nightmares about my murder scenes - and a lot of that detail doesn't even make it into the book because I don't want to turn my reader off.

    Good luck!

  5. Reading how hard it has been for you to write that scene means to me it is going to be a really great scene, one the reader can deeply feel the emotion and intent. Either way, best wishes to you on finishing, and to dreaming about sunny days again!

  6. Ha ha ! No Brit, it wasn't you. It happened the minute I knew she was going to have to walk back into the house where the blood was. And then the police entered the scene.

    I don't know how I thought I was going to get around writing this without detailing any of the death. Still, I'm trying to tip-toe in vagueness about the gruesome aspect and keep it about the relationships between the MC and the victims. I have to know a whole lot to write just a few sentences accurately, so that's where the nightmares came in.

    That, and the nearness of my friend's death. This is why I put this book down a year ago. Even now there are places I just don't want to go, you know?

  7. That's true - given the nearness it is to you and your heart with what has happened - may make it difficult.

    I think you will be able to be vague about it and it still be an impact. I can't wait to read it.

  8. Lucky. I can't even write with my kids AWAKE. That's funny how quickly your daughter finished, and you're right...do the readers even APPRECIATE how HARD WE WORK FOR THOSE WORDS???! Anyway, that must be tough. I have a few dark places in my book (nothing like a murder) that I know are coming up. Even one dark chapter is like one dark month for the writer.

  9. I'm sure once you get past this scene you'll sleep better.

    I love your thoughts on your daughter's speed reading. My daughter devours books. For Christmas I got her a laptop, so she can write her own. She has more words in her novel than I have in mine. (sigh)

    Have a good one, Heidi!

  10. Hmmm...this is most interesting. My story is a suspense and I haven't actually had a murder happen yet, but I have been writing parts of my story that I just want to hurry through. But I also realize, that every part of the story needs to be carefully crafted, no matter now quickly the reader skims over it.

    I sure hope your nightmares and that section of your story are over with soon, Heidi!

  11. All I can add is this: I get what you're saying. In my book I never described how the girls' friend died. I have a lot of reasons for that, which I'll explain in great detail some day, but part of it is that I don't want to have to "see" it over and over in my mind.

    I have enough nightmares as it is.

    But I do think it's a kind of catharsis, which is another topic, I guess.

  12. That would be a tough scene to write. I have a hard time with fight scenes.

    Writing a book is like Thanksgiving dinner. Takes hours to prepare and mere minutes to finish.

    It's sad really.

  13. Ha ha ha. I love Patti's comment - she's so right! Hang in there. I just know this scene is going to be spectacular when you finish. :-)

  14. I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait!!!