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.