Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Would Eula Do?

The novel was on the back burner this morning. I didn’t get started until almost eleven, and I only wrote for two hours today. I got some good work done, though. Only wrote two actual pages of the draft, but I did a lot of “supplemental” writing, trying to get into the character of … okay, I’ll share her name. Eula. My character’s name is Eula. Anyway, I wrote about five pages in which I tried to get into Eula’s character. And I think I got there. Eula’s voice started to come out. And the more her voice came out, the more I began to understand how Chapter Five needed to be structured.

I feel like I’m listening to Eula today. She’s telling me that the young mother sitting in front of her at church is important. She’s showing me that a volunteer, and not the usual volunteer, is the person who needs to drive her and the other “shut-ins” back home after the service is over. I hadn’t even thought about that. But as I was writing about life from Eula’s point of view, things started to fall into place.

I had trouble getting into her mind at first. Eula has very little of “Waterfall” in her personality. Eula has lived a hard life and has done some treacherous things in her lifetime, and now, after many years and in her old age, she’s dealing with guilt and regret for these things. It was hard to just jump into a character with such a complex background.

So first I had to think, “OK. What is something that I’ve always felt really guilty or regretful about?”

My mind immediately went to a day during my senior year of high school. I was driving my friend S. somewhere, and we came very close to getting into a wreck. Had we been hit, it would have been my fault, and S. would have been seriously hurt and probably killed. I said some serious prayers of thanksgiving for quite some time after that.

I don’t know if S. remembers that event. It really was more of a non-event, but I remember it vividly because, as the driver of the car, I recognized how close we came to being hit. The memory has haunted me for almost twenty years. It is still painful to think that my poor driving and one bad decision could have ended the life of a friend.

So. I wrote out that memory, then thought, “What if S. had died, or had been made a vegetable as a result of my negligence?” My honest answer? “I probably would have killed myself.”

So. The writer in me wrote, “Well, Waterfall, Eula’s a whole lot tougher and stronger than you’ll ever be. She’s certainly not one to kill herself, no matter how big her burden of remorse becomes. All she’s ever known is how to survive, and unlike you, she's spent a lot more time surviving rather than reflecting. She's never had the time or the inclination to think about ending her own life."

So. How would she feel in this situation? What would she think, the moment that seed of remorse first started to grow in the light of self-realization? What would Eula do?

Then the character of Eula came alive and I was able to write about her guilt (regarding her father’s death in 1958) from a very real place inside me. Next thing I knew, I’d handwritten five pages and knew what I needed to write in Chapter Five.

I love writing. I’d write Eula’s story for free if I had to.

Wait … I am writing Eula's story for free. Ahem. That’s what Eula’s demanding that I do, anyway. And I’m better off listening to Eula. She has some wisdom to her. Even if she is just a crotchety old imaginary friend.

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