You never know when a phone call is going to alter your life. It should reasonably follow then that you cannot “dread” something if you cannot “know” when in the future it might manifest. Linguistically, this might me true; however in practical terms, I disagree. I think it is perfectly reasonable to dread a future unknown something because someday, eventually (even if years off), this thing will come and it will knock you down.
That dreaded call could be of a fatal diagnosis, a layoff, a confession, a death. It could be almost anything anxiety provoking and terrible at all. While, nowadays, you might be ticking through your life on a steady, perhaps even calm sea with a gentle wind filling out your sails, be aware that the storm is waiting. It will come in with a fury so strong that unless you prepare yourself for it–at least mentally–you can expect to watch your sea-faring vessel sink behind you as you swim your way to shore yards behind the rats who were better prepared than you.
Although I would never suggest that one should spend a life mired in worry and consternation over any of this, a dull awareness is required.
Last week, one of my dear readers had an epiphany, on my behalf. This led to one of my life’s “dreaded phone calls,” where my dull awareness was pulled out of its comfort zone and placed squarely on center stage to the jeers of the critics assembled there. This dear reader, who faithfully reads this blog and has read five of my seven novels, came to a conclusion after drawing a contrast between the styles of writing. She observed that here, in this forum, I tend to be unguarded–even unapologetic–in my writing; in my fictional writing, she reads a different, more guarded tone of voice.
In the review of my novels, she has provided thoughtful critiques of narrative arc and character development. She has challenged the credibility of motives and questioned the consistency of voice. She is a great reader.
It is because I know and trust her that I have taken to heart her recent observation, which I have reduced to this: Not gritty enough, not raw enough, not vulnerable enough.
She wants my characters to be “messier.” As their creator, I am reluctant to mess up their lives. I like the idea of nice neat packages, square corners, and defined boundaries.
But in thinking about her epiphany over the last many days, I have come to realize that my characters’ lives are drafted in a way that makes their situations “externally” complicated. And while a story based on “external” conflict and struggle can be perfectly entertaining, it lacks the ability to draw the reader in to observe the “internal” conflicts that plague all of us as humans moving through a complicated life. That’s what she wants: to feel like she’s right there inside the character’s messy head/tangled heart dealing with the plot twists of the story.
This dreaded phone call brought into the light that dull awareness I had of the “gulf” between my “blog” voice and the voices of all of my (somewhat stilted, a bit sterile, a tad too neat and tidy) characters I have given life to.
Thankfully her epiphany came before any one of my novels has been picked up for publication. My gratitude for her critique overshadows any annoyance I could choose to feel in being told that my work can be better–if only because this one person has seen the intimacy and vulnerability expressed here in this forum.
So back to the manuscripts to mess things up a bit. I hope my characters will forgive my intrusion into their comfortable “interior” lives.