Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why the cashews matter

Most of yesterday was spent editing the story I'm changing from third to first person. Before, I couldn't hear or communicate the protagonist's voice. Changing the point of view has made all the difference. Now, instead of guessing what she's thinking, and hoping I'm getting it right, I know exactly what she's thinking, what she'll do next, and why. That's not because by using first person I'm cheating and writing a slightly fictional version of me. It's because I'm finally seeing things through her eyes--something I couldn't manage from the third person point of view and something that feels a lot like possession but with me playing the role of the devil. I literally imagine myself looking at her world through her actual eyeballs. In my mind. As I write. I'm in the room she's in. Possession!

The thing is, Scotty doesn't like unsalted cashews. Scotty thinks they're not worth buying. He couldn't possibly eat them. That's what he said last night when he was loading our groceries into the cart. Scotty is always friendly, always smiles, always seems genuinely pleased to be doing whatever he's doing. Good ol' Scotty. But till yesterday, that's all I knew: where he worked and that he was friendly. Luckily though, when Jonathan and I went through his line, I happened to have a canister of mixed nuts in my hand. I said something in passing about how I hoped I hadn't gotten the unsalted on accident, because those wouldn't be worth eating. "No!" Scotty assured me, "Those are the salted." He knew because he'd pondered the same mystery: Why would anyone bother with the unsalted nuts. "I saw the unsalted cashews over there the other day," he said, "and I couldn't imagine eating those."

That's the first solid thing I've learned about Scotty: he knows where it's at when it comes to salted nuts. And it's taken me months to find that out. Suddenly, instead of a character, Scotty is a real guy.

Marie, my protagonist, doesn't have a particular opinion about nuts. She does have an opinion about the way certain people's eyes seem to penetrate when they look into hers. And she's got strong feelings about betrayal and courage and finishing something you start. She hates fake eyelashes. She loves a cold Coke. She hates bleached blonde hair. She loves how bright the stars look when it's freezing cold out. But she doesn't yet know that family is usually a synonym for broken, or that broken isn't necessarily a bad thing. And she's got to learn both before you turn the last page.

If it weren't for me making her up, I'd believe she's real. Because whether you know everything about her or not, I do. That's what will make her real to you. That's what will make the story mean something. And that's why the cashews matter.