Let’s call her Edith. She arrived at the first session of my novel workshop clearly agitated. I asked each participant to go around the table and tell us why he or she wanted to write fiction. Edith began to shake. Her neck got blotchy.
“Revenge!” Edith hissed, when it came her turn. “I want to write a novel for revenge.”
Edith, it turned out, had bought a horse from a neighbor who was apparently a pretty shady character. The more she learned about this horse trader from other equestrians in her community, the more Edith realized the dramatic potential of writing about this woman whom she so detested. Perhaps it would be a way to expose her thievery while also making back the money she’d lost on her horse. Edith was obsessed. Somebody had finally grown weary of her diatribe and suggested that Edith go ahead and sign up for a writing class and get busy on the novel she kept talking about. Edith could tell a story. She was also something of a natural at dialogue.
Characterization, however, was another issue.
Week after week Edith came to our group with pages that drew her main character as evil incarnate. Her subject was so one dimensional that Edith’s classmates finally told her that she probably needed to find something lovable about her main character, to identify some aspect of this horse trader that made her not so dark, so evil. Maybe even write from the horse trader’s point of view. First person. At first Edith resisted. She could see nothing redeemable about this woman she thought she knew. We reminded her that this was a FICTION class.
Somehow that idea landed.
Soon Edith was bringing in pages that she could read to us without getting red in the face and short of breath. She was creating a character that held parts of her own self, her own voice. It was a character we could finally believe. Edith was proud of herself. She was also finding compassion–for her neighbor and herself.
Though she worked hard for several more years, I heard from another student that Edith passed away, her novel unfinished. But we all learned so much from her in that class. I will never forget Edith. Several of her classmates took their own advice and also began working harder at creating multi-dimensional characters that held the seeds of their own truths. Some got published.
My lesson was, don’t put off the stories you want to write. You never know how much time you have.
Okay, well, maybe I’m still working on that lesson. But just this week an e-mail came into the Table Rock box that reminded me of Edith. We heard from a representative of the Candy Maier Fund–an organization that offers scholarship support to women writers from Western North Carolina who want to attend writing workshops such as ours.
Why does the Fund do this? As their website explains: After Candy Maier’s unexpected death in November of 2005, writing friends established a fund in her honor to offer other women an opportunity to participate in the kind of shared writing experiences that she found fun and meaningful. These experiences brought out and fostered Candy’s writing talent, but she died before many of her poignant, funny, true-to-life pieces could be published.
I hope if you are on the fence about taking the plunge with a writing workshop, you’ll go for it. Who knows whether you will publish or not. Publication is not the only reason to write. Candy Maier made some special friends through her writing. Edith found her way to forgiveness. I found my way to keep on writing and teaching, because the rewards are mountainous.
To find out more about the Candy Maier Fund, click on the logo above. To find out more about what and why you might want to write, come to Table Rock.