The past is inevitable. And it’s not even mine.
When I started rewriting this book (again), I was pretty sure I could keep most of the past off the page. At least in Part One. I get tired of flashbacks, to be honest. Yet I can’t think of a book off the top of my head that doesn’t involve characters looking back at where they’ve been to help them realize how far they’ve come.
I suppose I didn’t realize until recently how important my main character’s past is to the shape of the story. I thought I could get away with a few references and pack the prologue as full as I could with background info, then keep the rest in the present.
As usual, I tried to take too much control over my story, and proved myself so, so wrong.
Once again I’ve let one of my own Rules of Writing smack me hard in the face. You have to let a story go where it wants to go, the way it wants to get there. It’s like a golden rule. I avoided giving into it as long as I could. Then I scrolled over a few paragraphs of a scene I’d written a month or so ago.
It was all exposition, the MC of the present looking back on something significant that happened when she was a little younger. Necessary; the reader needs to know. The entire scene was pretty much watered down and summarized into a short paragraph before the MC moved on to talking about how it affected her.
I didn’t like it. Not the event itself, but the fact that something so significant was trimmed down and glossed over so simplistically. I read it again, and once more. Then I realized I had to take those few vague paragraphs and transform it into a memory, and this memory being so important, of course the character would remember it in great detail.
This is what resulted:
No one believed I was smart until my exam scores came back. I was just as promising of a student as anyone else in my class up to that point. Nothing special. But I remember the day the headmistress—the headmistress!—kept me after school for a “chat.”
That’s what she said. “Ollia, how about a chat. My office, five o’clock?” Like we were meeting for tea. She said it right in front of Aron Wright and my former best friend Hana. They both laughed, thinking I had done something wrong.
When I got to the headmistress’s office later, there were two teacups on the desk. Before I gathered up the courage to knock, I watched her pick up the one closest to me and switch it with the one sitting on the other side. She turned around before I could raise my fist, like she’d sensed I was standing there watching.
“Come in, don’t be shy,” she said, waving a hand for me to enter. Her office smelled familiar, like ink and books and paper. My father’s study. “Sit, sit. Do you like tea? I thought so. Cream or sugar in it, too?”
She poured tea into both of our cups and set her matching tea pot over on the other side of her desk. When she picked hers up, I noticed a chip in the ceramic on the side of the rim facing me. I looked down at my own cup. No chip.
“Relieved that exams are over?” the headmistress asked, setting down her cup. “Almost time for upper-level. I bet you’re … looking forward to it.”
“I am.” I looked around. There were books all over the place, floor to ceiling, just like home. Turning my head to face her again, I swallowed. My heart wouldn’t slow down. “Did I … did I do something wrong?”
“Oh, sweetheart of course not.” She gave me that look I hated, the one people always gave me when they first met me and realized who I was, or rather, who my mother was. “It’s good news. Exceptionally good news. Do you want to hear it?”
I gripped the handle of my teacup. “Yes, please.”
And it continues. But I won’t give away any more. Yet.
There’s a reason we can’t give up on stories, even when that seems like the easiest thing to do. I didn’t really want the character of Kathyrine to be as important to the plot line as she is now, but because I didn’t want to, that eventually became what made the most sense. The entire adventure that unfolds in Part Two, Kathyrine is there. Not in a physical sense. But in thought. In memory.
Everything I don’t want to happen in my stories, happens anyway.
I need to have more faith in my thoughts. I’m wrong a lot. But not all the time.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.
A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.