Standing Off to the Side

I’ve been back into my novel again for the first serious work since February, reading the first 50,000 words over again to re-learn the characters and their struggles and their hopes. There are some lumpy spots, probably one vestigial scene that needs to be cut away, but in large strokes, it’s a good story.

I’ve arrived now at the frontier, at the place where the crisis will be foregrounded and then resolved. I don’t yet know how it will play out, or which direction the resolution will take them. I have to let that happen, I can’t make it be one way or another. I’ve painted the circumstance in which they find themselves, and it’ll be up to them to negotiate that terrain, and one another.

As part of letting go of that control, I’ve spent the past couple of days writing from the point of view of someone who had not yet had much of a role, though she’s about to. I had to understand what this opposing force wants, in order to understand how she’ll act. I understand Kurt and Megan, I understand their adopted daughter Sarasa. But Sarasa’s mother is back to reclaim her daughter, after eight years of silence, and I needed to understand this pending conflict from her point of view. I need to presume that she’s an honorable person who wants to recover her family, who “wants the best” for her daughter, and is utterly uncertain what “the best” would be. What has she been through in her decade of separation from her daughter, in the eight years since she’s even been able to communicate with her?

This material will never make it into the book. But it was necessary work to understand why Svara would come forward at this point and ask for the return of her now-teenaged daughter. It makes the problem matter even more; as Hegel said, the nature of tragedy is right versus right.

When I write nonfiction, I do way more interviews than I’ll ever be able to use. Partly that’s because I never know who’ll say something particularly illuminating. But partly it’s because the tone of those conversations bleeds a little emotional charge into everything else. I expected my adjunct correspondents to be angry, to be resentful. And they were, a little. But I didn’t expect the despair. And that despair, that sense that we all know what could be but never will, lent its tint to the flat white of the data. The unused words from those interviews are not “on the cutting room floor.” They are infused through every paragraph of the book.

Likewise, Svara’s testimony to me through the past two days, though it will not be tied into the book verbatim, will change the color of the conflict, will make it richer and less transparent. We learn so much through unnecessary work; through it, we become receptive to meaning.

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