By J.D. Rhoades
We spend some time here talking about the pressures, the challenges, and the frustrations of the writing life. True, it ain’t all beer and skittles. But, to be fair, there’s right much in the way of skittles. And lord, is there ever beer. Along with that, there are moments that feel so good, they remind me why I still do this. Here’s one.
I sat down one day last week to write a scene for my current WIP. This book is probably the one I’ve done the most extensive outlining and pre-planning for, so I knew what I wanted to do in the scene and how it advanced the story. There’s a bit of exposition, a bit of revelation, where the main character (a female FBI agent) is getting a teasing glimpse of exactly how big and how mean the monster is that she’s up against.
As originally conceived, the scene presented some challenges; it takes the form of an interview the agent and her partner are doing with the CEO of a big pharmaceutical corporation.
Two people interviewing a corporate suit and his lawyer runs a severe risk of being a boring info-dump: lots of talking, lots of exposition while the reader’s interest begins to wither and die. I sat and stared at the page for a long time, wondering how to keep that from happening. I started. I stopped. I checked my e-mail and Facebook. I went back to the document. I started again. I stopped. I picked up the guitar and played a bit. I petted the dog who was squirming around under the desk, trying to get my attention. I shooed the dog out and sat down again.
And suddenly, as I began writing the CEO’s lines, something happened. I could see him. I could see how he looked, how he spoke, even a particular annoying mannerism he has that illustrates that he’s brilliant, but highly eccentric. His dialogue began to write itself. And as it did, the character of the partner also began to emerge. Previously, I’d known a couple of things about him: he’s big, he’s more than a little intimidating, and being FBI, he’s a little too cocky for what he’s about to go up against. But he didn’t have a face, nor did he have much of a personailty.
But as the scene went on, he shouldered his way in and took a bigger role in the interrogation. Suddenly there were dimensions to him I hadn’t seen previously. He’s actually a lot smarter than he looks, but he knows when playing the dumb jock can work for him, especially when dealing with an brilliant, eccentric nerd who likes to feel superior to someone who looks exactly like the kind of guy who used to harass him in grade school.
When it was over, two characters that originally were just shadows in my mind were living and breathing and sparring with each other. I knew them. I knew what they looked like, I knew their respective backstories. Give me a couple of minutes, and I can tell you what they had for lunch.
Damn, it’s fun when that happens. It doesn’t actually feel like I’m the one creating. It feels like people are leaping fully formed out of my head, like Athena. I actually leaned back and went “where the hell did THAT come from?”
In moments like that, all the rejection, all the frustration, all the exasperation with this ridiculous busness seems very remote, and you remember why you do this.
So, writers and non-writers: Tell me about the moments that remind you of why you do what you do.