Romance or Reality: Bleeding for that Happy Ending

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Today is Valentine’s Day and the blogosphere has been filled with all kinds of posts about romance and peppered with some pretty funny anti-romance rants.

Ernest Hemingway said it well (and succinctly, I might add) “If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.”

Is romance promoted so much (in the media and everywhere else it seems – at least for today) because it strays so far from most people’s reality? Are we perpetually attracted to that which we can never seem to have?

And where does that chasm leave us as writers? Are we part of the hearts and flowers romance promoters or the rain on the parade anti-romantic ranters?

A lot of people say they watch TV, or see a movie, or read a book to get away from reality. We’re not likely to be too popular if we go out of our way to shoot cupid down with our own reality spiked barbs of bitterness.

Everyone loves a happy ending, right? I know I do, but as a writer, I want so much more for my characters. On the way to letting them have what they want, I need to throw enough of life’s tried and true obstacles in their way so that if and when they arrive at happiness, they’ve had to fight the good fight, they’ve grown, they’ve learned something of value about themselves and about how the world works. If I’m lucky enough to get my book into the hands of the right readers – they too will come away with an insight.

Think about any of the great stories that you treasure. The ones we really invest ourselves in and remember are the ones where the main characters suffered along the way. They struggled and battled the dragons and in the end made it to a place where we felt their happy ending was well deserved.

Heck, even the Disney Princesses have to struggle – Ariel risks her very identity for love, Mulan must go away to war to save the dignity of her entire family, even Cinderella had it tough before the whole fairy-godmother-glass-slipper business.

If you are a writer – regardless of whether you felt romantic today or not – think about this: no one will remember your story unless your characters drip a little blood down the road to their happy ending. Or maybe this quote by Orson Welles is more apt. “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop the story.”

A Writer Must Write – Enough Said – Full Stop

I have discovered that there is a lot written about the process of writing. You should write what you know – no wait. You don’t have to be limited to writing what you know, but if you don’t write what you know, then you better do the research so you know what you’re talking about. But hold on a minute – don’t burden the reader with the voluminous details of your research – don’t let anything get in the way of the story. Unless of course you’re a James Michener, then you can get away with it. 

I picked up a cute little maxim the other day – be yourself – unless you could be a unicorn. Then of course, be a unicorn. Right – you get what I’m saying here. If you could be James Michener, go for it.

You should always show, not tell. In the words of Anton Chekhov, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Holy take my breath away, Batman. That is genius – thank you Mr. Chekhov.

But wait – if all you do is show, the story might race ahead of the reader at such a pace that he or she never manages to get to that essential place of emotional connection. OK – you better do a bit of telling, too.

Be careful how you bring in the back story of your characters. You mustn’t let it get in the way of the present action. But wait – unless the reader understands your character’s motivations for doing what they’re doing – well – the story won’t really make any sense. So you better figure out a way to get some of that back story in.

First person, third person, omniscient narrator – point of view is the crux of the story. No wait – it’s all about the characters. No wait – plot drives the story. Holy lost in the steamy swamp, Batman. And lest you have yet to despair of ever getting this writing thing right, consider this:  “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” (Anaïs Nin). Thanks, Nin – that’s really encouraging.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m running through a tangled jungle, like I’m trapped in a scene from the movie, Apocalypse Now.

At the same time – I’m glimpsing patterns of light through the darkness – threads that have the possibility of coming together to create something I will feel proud of having brought to life.

Good thing. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”(Maya Angelou). Who needs that kind of burden?

 

“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”(Flannery O’Connor). Amen, Flannery.

My reading about writing turns out to be about knowing more, then doubting that I know more, and finally realizing that there is always more I’ll need to know. Writing takes courage. It doesn’t allow me to hide anywhere. I reveal myself, but the reward is that I might produce something that others will pick up and read and in so doing, find themselves revealed. They might ask – how did she know my story so well?

I know what writing it is for me – being lost for hours on end in a world of my imagining that feels more real at times than the actual world I inhabit. It’s easy to get weighed down under the combined load of all of the words written about what writing should be. I try to remember what Thomas Jefferson said: “In matters of style – swim with the current. In matters of principle – stand like a rock.”

The past two nights I have gone to sleep and dreamt of a scene in the sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight. I wake up repeating to myself a little chunk of dialogue that is meant to represent an entire conversation between two of the characters, complete with setting and various character attributions – all worked out and perfect within the dream. I repeat this little piece of gold over and over as I awake, but soon the words seem like nonsense and then they simply disappear – like the proverbial poof of the genie as he or she slides back into the bottle. I know though, in that liminal time between dream and full awakening, I believed I had it all worked out and that those few words could help me remember everything – I could tug on that tiny line and the entire fabric of the scene would be pulled forward and shaken out in front of me like a crisply dried sheet fresh from the clothes line.

A writer must write. Whether it’s a flash story, short story, novella, novel, all the way up to an epic tome weighing in like War and Peace – a writer must write. Ernest Hemingway is credited with writing the shortest piece ever: Baby shoes – for sale. Never used. Talk about slamming the reader against a wall with six little words! Holy rip your guts out, Batman. Mr. Hemingway – we salute you.

“Your tale, sir, would cure deafness” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest – Act I – Scene II).

 

 

“Everything you can imagine is real.”(Pablo Picasso). And you better believe Picasso knew what he was talking about.

So go for it – imagine, find out what you don’t know and look for the answers. Discover that the more you find out the less you will think you know. Accept there is always more to know. And keep writing. A writer must write. Full stop!

Bruce and I posing in front of the Hemingway Cottage at the Billingsley Creek Lodge and Retreat in Hagerman, Idaho. Apparently, Hemingway spent whole summers in this cottage, writing. When he wasn’t out taking advantage of what Hagerman has to offer in the way of fishing!