Spinning Out Stories
“You’re so lucky,” my friend says, “to be able to sit at your desk and spin out stories.”
I don’t tell her that the threads I spin are filled with knots, that to undo those knots sometimes takes more patience that I’ve got, that sometimes I’m in despair about how I’m going to make everything come out all right in the end.
Someone told me that the beloved writer, Sid Fleishman, said he couldn’t wait to get to his desk to find out what his characters were going to do that day.
It’s true that characters have minds of their own.
But I have a mind of my own, as well.
And sometimes the two don’t agree.
Now I’m writing about the Depression, about a family who moves to a farm. For the moment I call it R: MY NAME IS RACHEL.
The setting is easy, it’s that lovely upstate New York country that I’ve written about so many times. I’ve done the research, and more, I have my mother’s stories and my grandmother’s to give me the feel of that time.
What I want to do is to show two sisters who are so different, but who have to learn to get along with each other. After all, my sister Annie and I have learned that over and over again for all these years.
I wake up at night thinking about these two sisters. And one night I tell myself I’ll do it in alternating chapters, one for Rachel, one for Cassie. I spend weeks at it, back and forth. Who thinks this? Who does that?
Another sleepless night. It’s all wrong, all these pages, all these chapters. It’s Rachel’s story and she means me to know it. She won’t do what I want her to do. Heavy hearted, I delete the Cassie chapters. All right, Rachel, go ahead, I say.
What is Cassie going to do now? I don’t know, but somehow she’ll tell me.
Strange, isn’t it? If I listen to my characters, they stay true to themselves, and for me, it’s the only way for me to make the story work.