Veronique Darwin

When I Changed to a Boy

In My Writing on March 13, 2014 at 9:08 pm

It’s hard to write a coming-of-age story from the point of view of a character who is going to deny it. A character, I’ve realized, who for most of the book is flat, unwilling to change. So what if, after three years of breathing down her neck, I gave my main character a break? What if I let a boy tell her story?

I knew that Jillian and her boyfriend Gil were meant to be together the first time I invented them. I don’t know why their names were so similar, though there was something pressing about maintaining that. Something annoying about Gil’s name made him endearing in a way that would so bother Jillian that she would keep him around. And the keeping-each-other-around nature of the relationship would make for a meaningful, lifelong one. I don’t know that I knew much about relationships, but I did feel I knew a lot about Jillian and Gil.

However, since inventing them, I have been trying and failing to explain their relationship. I think the explanation always falls short because I come at it from Jillian’s point of view, Jillian who through most of the novel would never admit to anyone that she thinks she’s found a person, let alone the right person. It was difficult because I had a difficult narrator, but also because who besides an author and Juan Pablo have to explain their relationship to other people?

Gil is happy to. Gil is happy to tell you anything about anyone. Gil is introspective, and sensitive, and curious, and he’s extremely self-conscious, which I believe is the perfect tone for the story I am writing, and a tone Jillian or her 3rd person narrator construction could never provide me with. I created the perfect narrator in Gil, the Irishman who can never stop telling stories, I had just never noticed it before.

In only a few days and one opening page he’s shown me things I’ve never seen before: her house and her inside it. An overgrown lawn, a crowbar, and a bay window. I’ll follow him wherever he takes me because I’m starting to see why I’ve invented him.



Simply Curving

In Inspiration on February 15, 2014 at 5:02 pm

I just watched a movie called A Simple Curve, a terrific Canadian film based in New Denver, British Columbia. It’s the story of a twenty-seven year old wondering whether he really belongs in the place where he grew up. I can relate to the story: twenty-five, trying to find a belonging place,  seeing if the one I come from will do.

I submitted a scene outline to my writing group last week. It was one of those things that I wasn’t sure I really did, pressed send on an email that contained the scene outline of my novel. I woke up the next morning feeling like something had shifted (my first kiss? did I really land in Paris?).  I bared some soul that day last week when I sent out a scene outline of my first novel. I exposed the inner workings of the fears I am experiencing, fears I’ve loosely tied up into a plot outline. What hidden secrets are exposed in those lines? What Freudian themes do you see in the dreams I’ve told you?

But when I met with my writing group it became clear I hadn’t shown them anything. The resounding question from the members of my writing group were this one: what is it your character wants? She needs some motivation! And though I tried to answer under my breath (as though it was just a line I had left out), I found I couldn’t. My character, I wanted to say, is me. What she wants is obvious, isn’t it?

But I wrapped the motive of my character all up in a life-dream, in the idea that there is something special out there waiting for her, and that she needs to discover it. But is that a motivation, a concrete thing she can achieve at the end so the reader can put down the book? A life-dream is not the respect of her family, it’s not the love of her boyfriend, it’s not the security and fulfillment of a well-paying, meaningful job. My character wants a life-dream and I can’t even define that to you!

I’ve been writing a novel over and over again for the past three years , and only two months ago did I decide to sit down and write a plot outline. That’s what my mid-twenties seem to be (your mid-twenties seem to be, our mid-twenties we are told are supposed to be): a series of repeated mistakes, a learning curve that rather than arcing like a rainbow, falls off at places as we give up on things we tried and realized weren’t us. I’m happy I’m not giving up on this novel, that I’m not giving up on writing. Though I’m taking sojourns away from it, into the land of the real world, I’m always curving back, trying to straighten my life out into a straight line I know it’s not supposed to be.



A Life-Dream

In Inspiration, My Writing on December 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I realized tonight what my narrator was missing. She was always conflicted, always in trouble, I was just never sure her problem was enough of a thing I could describe to you if you asked me. But then it hit me how to make it tangible, somehow, even through all the vagueness that exists from being in your twenties, in the beginning of a life and not sure how to spend it. The concrete problem is that Jillian once had a very real life-dream, and then over the years she stopped dreaming. Even if she doesn’t quite realize it now (which she’ll have to, because she’s in a novel), her very real problem is that she is now in a big way giving  up on her life-dream.

The appearance of the opposite of the dream, the “life” part, makes her realize the gravity of what she is giving up on. It propels her to look into the mystery that so obsessed her ten years ago. From that comes a reawakening of all the old issues that accompanied her first escape. This time, however, she is set on carrying it though.

From over the past hour, I’ve recognized a more true form and spirit to my novel than I’ve seen yet. Maybe it’s me that’s changed, or maybe my narrator rolled over while I let her lie dormant and did some work for once. With a loose paint stroke, she set an idea in my mind that has since led me on a roll toward reformulating my own life-dream that has as a large part of it writing this novel.

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