Creativity & Courage & Cowering In Fear

“Creativity takes courage.” — Matisse.

One of the great things about writing is that we’re always (hopefully) improving as writers. Things that didn’t resonate with us a week, a month or a year before will hit us at the right point to create that lightbulb moment when we’re ready.

Today wasn’t the first time I’d seen the Matisse quote. It’s on a magnet above my desk at work. But it was the first time I’d seen it since I really started to dig into this story, and it clicked.

Earlier this week, Jesse Stern shared some advice from Don Bellisario: “The twist isn’t who done it. The twist is why.” Jesse went on to point out if you don’t have a good why, you don’t have a good story. Another lightbulb moment. Since then, I’ve been digging deep into these characters trying to figure out what makes them tick and why they’re acting the way they are. The story is much more developed than it was a week ago, despite only having about 6.5 percent of it written.

This morning, I walked into the National Gallery museum store, saw the quote and stared. The lightbulb went on. Ellie’s theme song for this story might be Pauley P’s “Fear,” but so is mine. Telling this story the right way, the way I want to tell it, will require tapping into the emotions from some experiences a few years back, the period I refer to only semi-jokingly as the Six Months of Hell. Yes, with the caps. A lot of my reluctance to put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — on this story is that to tell it, really tell it, I have to rip off those scabs. I’m not quite sure the tissue beneath it has healed enough to be exposed to the light. From a writing perspective, I’m not sure if I need it to be or not.

It’s been four years, almost. I’m a different person in so many ways. That stepping back, standing on the hill and looking down to gain perspective — it’s there. But to tell the story, I have to walk back up to the battlefield, up to the bodies lying there and examine them closely, put myself back there. Remember those feelings and emotions, then filter them through the lenses of the characters in the story. Put that out there, then step back again to edit, revise and polish with the distance I have now. I know, academically, that I can do it. It’s just a matter of taking that step, ripping off that scab. Do I have the courage to do that? Guess we’ll find out.

Why? Oh, why!

My Jesse radar failed me last night and I missed the whole discussion of possible serial killer storylines, including a DPB tip from Jesse. He said Bellisario said the plot twist isn’t who done it. It’s why. Then he added that without a good why, you don’t have a good story.

Yes, sometimes the head-smackingly obvious doesn’t seem that way until somebody says it. Sandy and I were both kicking ourselves this morning for not having realized that before. It was well-timed, too, since it helped me sort out a plot hole the friend I’m staying with had pointed out last night when I was explaining the story.

In all of my Metro musing today, I extrapolated some from what DPB said and Jesse added to. I think the corollary to that tip is that as writers, we need to figure out who did what before the story starts and why. Once we understand that, really understand that, we drop the bomb that kicks off the story (find the dead body, start the argument, etc.) and let everybody react from there. Stuff came up in my first few pages today that I hadn’t planned, but it works. And it works because I know what’s making these guys tick, so now I can just let them run with it.

This week’s writing will be a voyage of exploration for me and the characters, but their backstory is giving me the map.