The last few weeks I have been trying to portray what I thought would be a simple scene: a woman makes lunch for her long-lost childhood sweetheart, his wife and their daughter.
The problem is that as I write the scene and let it unravel, there is so much resentment in the room it is almost stifling!
Having lived through similar situations (not in the details but in the aggregate), it is painful to write. You relive the horror and find yourself trying to put distance between your soul and the written page…
There is a push/pull thing going with the mother and daughter, trust issues with the husband and wife, old wounds between the man and his old friend, and the natural nervousness of entering a new situation (meeting new people and meeting your past).
The struggle is in how to write the scene so that I show the different dynamics, and how I let the narrator express what is happening without copping an attitude and taking sides. But then, the idea of an unreliable narrator that has an agenda is so much more fun!
I keep writing and have a mélange of color on the page as each version reveals itself and awaits cohesion. I don’t mind the chaos. In fact, I find it refreshing to deal with a narrator that has more gossip than journalist running through her.
As a writer, you do not want to detract from the story itself. At the same time, you want your reader to enjoy the story. I think this narrator can add color commentary that the characters cannot make themselves, and point out some ridiculous moments that happen in life but, unless you have an active inner voice, they never get called out properly.
Because a story may be worth reading if it includes the words, “And girl, you will never guess what she got caught doing in that bathroom—well, it was only cause they heard the crash and her cussin’ and taking the Lord’s name in vain!” It will always be much better than telling it with clinical detachment.
Just as one starts to play up with the narrator, you realize the story could be funny in the telling if not in its own reality. That changes the telling and makes the process a little nuanced; and the writing that had gotten wooden and convoluted, suddenly is fresh and full of possibilities... Nothing is written in stone: changing the tone of your story does not change the events. When stuck, maybe letting the narrator set the pace might help advance the story in unexpected (and delightful) ways.