Before I went to sleep last night I wrote a few hundred words in a scene where my main character’s cheek is grazed sparring in karate class. The near miss triggers her and she retaliates, out of control, not pulling and controlling her kick and she hurts her classmate. I also started sketching the next scene where her Sensei has to talk with her after class.
As the writer, I’m playing the role of the triggered heroine who feels confusion and fear and shame but also the roles of the teacher/mentor and of the system/rules/morals. What does the community center require in the case of an injury? What is the Sensei required to say, either per the community center or per the karate association or per karate tradition or per his personal morals and position of leadership? And how does the heroine react to what she has done and to what the Sensei tells her?
I am (kind of sort of) the leader of a fiction writing group. In a dream last night I did something out of bounds, something connected to the group. I don’t remember what the infraction was but I had decided to penalize myself by not allowing myself to attend the next one or possibly the next two group meetings. I had not told anyone about this decision and I’m not even sure who knew of my transgression yet.
In the next scene that I remember a bunch of us (not writing group people) were in a vehicle travelling though a touristy area. We stopped at a store like an ice cream shop that displayed treats behind glass and I ordered something. My father (who in reality passed away at 94 but when he appears in my dreams he’s often in his fifties, which makes sense because I’m usually in my twenties) didn’t think I should be ordering anything. He felt that given what I had done I shouldn’t be allowed a treat but I went ahead and ordered anyway, paying for it myself. I already knew that I planned to penalize myself by missing the next group meeting and that was enough.
So in my dream I played the guilty main character as well as the judge determining my penalty, just as in writing my story I was playing the heroine and the Sensei and the community center. I’m less clear on the role my father was playing. My writing insecurity? He was a bit off to the side, not directly involved, almost like a reminder. Perhaps my writing group, evaluating my story?
Or the role of the karate association or even the law; some higher authority overriding my judgement? Or the court of public opinion? Or just my father?
And what does it say that I chose to ignore him?
I’m not certain that these scenes are going to stay in the novel. In the drafting stage I’m throwing vignettes against the wall and seeing which ones stick and which ones play well with others. These ones last night were painful to write (and still are as I work with them, filling them out and extending them). I have to experience the regret and shame and confusion inherent in the moments to be able to write them.
I am pushing myself toward these kinds of difficult-to-experience plot choices. Not because it’s good for me personally (it’s like digging at scabs with a knife by myself, as opposed to having a trained surgeon do the work or just using a fingernail). I do this because I hope that these are good for the story. Some of my original ideas were lacking in conflict and were too simple, too safe, too YA-ish. So far I’ve pushed the narrator and her father further apart by making them combative rather than just distant, and I’ve removed a random rapist and instead had an existing character unexpectedly try to rape the heroine, and now have taken a safe and supportive karate club environment and forced a wedge between my narrator and the club by allowing her to snap and lose control and hurt someone.
The goal: to up the stakes, to increase the pressure on the heroine, to make the arc more meaningful, to push the reader along.