Thursday, February 14, 2008

What do you want, character Celia?

I've been distracted by some regular life things, and very busy at work. Not a good combination for making my deadline to send another draft of my story to Advisor by tomorrow. So, now, before I leave work to meet Brian for a Valentine's day dinner, I will journal about what I think is the biggest of the currently known problems in the story.

What exactly does Celia want in this story? She's a soon-to-be-divorced 30-something woman who moves to Boston from New York to escape her ex, who cheated on her. She's lonely and sad and cold. She is also very confused about what happened--her marriage hadn't seemed bad before she found out her husband was dating someone else and had no intention to stop.

One of the main things she wants to figure out is: how could she not have known? How could she be married to someone--smell his morning breath, know everything he's eaten in a given day--and not know that he's someone who could break a vow that she took very seriously, and that he once did too?

And more specifically, how could she not have known that he was cheating? Sure, in retrospect she can see certain behavioural changes that can be linked--he started "going to the gym on Saturday mornings," he worked late a few more times a month than usual.

But more than not questioning those could-be-benign signs, how did she not notice anything change in him? Did he not change how he looked at her, how he had sex with her, how he talked to her? How could someone not change those things while they're falling out of love with you, and decieving you? Did they change and she just didn't notice? Did she chalk up any minute changes to the changes that happen between all couples, day in and day out, the changes that come and go with mood, and external events like a bad day at work?

The answer of course is that people and relationships are complicated. Very good people can do very bad things, and vice versa. Very good relationships can take very bad turns. What might be a sign of a revved up health kick one month may be the sign of someone cheating the next. It wasn't that she didn't know Bobby well enough, or that she misjudged him completely. It's that people are so complicated that even those you think you know well can surprise you. Hell, you can surprise yourself.

It is through her budding friendship with a neighbor, Abby, that she begins to figure these things out. And when it comes out that Abby in fact cheated on her first husband with the man she is now married to, Celia can better understand that people do shitty things and even though they may not be sorry at first (her husband never apologizes, and Abby didn't really feel bad about what she did until much later), they probably have regrets and remourse later on.

So... how to insert this more into the story?
1- Have a scene where Celia is asking Abby about how she couldn't have known he was someone who could cheat, and have Abby say something about how people are a complex mix of good and bad, and how people often do things that they are surprised they can/would do in a given circumstance. She should give a small example, like that she shouted at a scary-looking teenager on the bus once to give up his seat for an old woman who just got on. She never would've said she'd do that, but something about the situation just made her spring into action.

2- When Celia finds out she has to go back to NY for the divorce hearing, have her imagine asking Bobby these questions, and her not even being able to imagine what could be a satisfying answer to them.

3- Have a scene where Celia surprises herself. Maybe after she storms away when she finds out that Abby cheated on her husband. On her walk back to her apartment, something happens and she reacts to it strangely because she's all wound up from their interaction. What could it be??

4- In the denouement, after Abby apologizes to Celia and Celia gets a sense of satisfaction from that, almost as if it was her husband saying all the right words, Celia should make note of some sort of acknowledgment that it wasn't her fault to know any more than she knew, and that people are indeed complex.

OK, I drafted this in a hurry, so I'm sure their are typos. But please ignore them, and offer your thoughts! Best Blogger Tips


TI said...

Bug, you do such great work with your characters and your plots. It sounds to me like it's coming together. I think some kind of resolution like Celia realizes she wasn't ready to know until she did know. She might have discovered sooner but she wasn't ready to have that information. Maybe Abby could say something about how she used to sometimes try tomake it easy for her husband to find out but he was in such denial that he wouldn't have noticed anyway. But perhaps that's not the right story for this story.

chiefbiscuit said...

Great work! I'm not going to advise as I think you're well on your way all by yourself and I wouldn't have anything of real value to add - except encouragement - these are real people you are talking about - characters who live and breathe. Maybe they will tell you what to do? Well done!

Writer bug said...

Thank you both for your encouraging comments!