#AmWriting Cross-Post: On Being a Writer’s Best Friend

Believe it or not, the biggest hazard of being friends with a (fiction) writer is not the chance they might write about you. Most novelists don’t write about people they know, except by accident, and even then it’s almost never a direct depiction of either the person or the incident that inspired part of a story.

No, the biggest hazard is having all of the writer’s stories spoiled before you ever get to read them.

My friends are varying degrees of supportive of my writing. Some will say “That’s so cool” but never want to read anything I write, while others seem interested only when I have written a story of the type they prefer to read. I am, however, blessed to have a best friend who is probably my biggest fan (aside from my mom and, on certain stories, my husband) and who actively, avidly wants to read everything I write, no matter the subject or the genre or the mood of the story.

She is my soul-mirror, like and unlike myself in all the best and most complementary ways. While not a writer herself, she has a strong sense of narrative and drama (probably from her love of film). She is the person I go to when I am editorializing a story and cannot tell if the instinct pulling me in one direction is my writer’s intuition or a plot will-o-wisp seeking to lure me into a murky quagmire in which I will lose my story and my way.

Her function as my sounding board is a hazard of the job for a writer’s best friend. She regularly enjoys the dubious honor of hearing the entire storyline before she reads a word of the story, because I needed advice on how the climax should play out. I know this is disappointing for her, because it takes from her the ability to read that piece of my writing just as a fan. For that reason, I try not to go to her for help with stories in her preferred genres—at least not before I have a rough draft she can read. I let her validate or question the direction I chose when she offers me her critique.

But for books in genres I know she does not read, stories that she will read despite the genre merely because I wrote it, I have no compunctions about blowing through the whole story in an email in order to figure out one tiny detail.

And she is an invaluable resource for me. I have found that when my intuition suggests a course the logical side of my mind did not come up with, the cognitive dissonance paralyzes me, creatively. If I solicit her help and she agrees with my instinct, that dissonance goes away. If she agrees with my logic, the instinct either disappears or redirects in such a way that it no longer conflicts with the logic. I don’t feel like my bouncing ideas off her is a taking of advice so much as a validating of my own suspicion: I tend to lean one way or another when I ask for her help, and if we incline the same way I know that way is right. When we diverge she still offers a valuable opinion counter to my own, and thinking through her perspective helps me clarify my own.

A recent example of this was my reaching the last 10% of a novel only to get cold feet about a subplot and the villain of the story. My intuition was suggesting that he was not a big enough presence in the story as a whole to justify his position as primary antagonist…that the events his behavior caused could easily be caused by other characters for different reasons, to the same ends. But I wasn’t sure! Removing him would take out one of the weft threads interlocking all the warp threads together. I couldn’t tell if the narrative would be as strong without that particular weft or if it would be left weak and full of holes.

I sent my friend my dilemma. She replied back with a gut instinct that matched my own, and her answer instantly clarified matters for me. The not-so-villainous villain was the dead weight I had begun to suspect he was; his absence would not only leave the narrative equally strong but also render it tighter, sharper, and more focused. The reasons I had for wanting to keep him suddenly felt like flourishes the Writer wanted—pretensions, not sound storyboarding.

Basically she helped me murder my darlings. What’s that old saying about best friends and bodies?

I think I even managed to find my answer without giving away the entire story this time….

Read it at amwriting site: http://amwriting.org/archives/13438


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Filed under Lily Elsewhere, Writing

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