Monday, November 2, 2009

Exercise - The Hardest Thing

Janet posted the following exercise: Choose one of your main characters (male or female) from any of your WIPs and from his/her POV write about one of the most difficult decisions he/she had to make.

I am writing about my character Bridget Grant from my WIP “Welcome to Paradise”. Bridget is forced to return to her hometown to live with her mother after her marriage and her business both fail. She’s not happy about it. She’d left Paradise twenty years previously with big dreams. But leaving was the hardest decision she’d ever made in her life. I'll let her tell the story:

Ever since I can remember I couldn’t wait to leave Paradise. When I was a thirteen year old kid working in Uncle Frank’s restaurant, I’d imagine what it would be like to run the kitchen of a fancy restaurant, to have people rave over my food. I wanted to learn to make complex dishes, not just the ordinary fare served in Uncle Frank’s restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Uncle Frank. He was my rock growing up, the only person who really understood my dreams. But I wanted more, so much more. Paradise was just a dusty little prairie town that had nothing to offer me.

Nothing except for love. When I was seventeen I fell madly in love with Jack. I couldn’t believe it when he started paying attention to me. He was the town’s golden boy; smart, athletic, popular. What did he want with me? But as I got to know him I discovered so much more to Jack. He was sweet and sensitive; he actually liked to read poetry! How many guys like poetry? And he was funny. He had a quick wit and a silly side that he really only showed to me. We were so alike, so close. Sometimes I felt as though I needed only to look into his eyes to read his thoughts, to see his soul. I absolutely adored him.

But then Jack graduated high school. He wanted to go out to Alberta to work in the oilfields so he could make enough money to buy a farm around Paradise. That was his dream. He wanted me to stay in Paradise after I finished high school the following year. We’d get married then and live on the farm he’d buy. He said I could work in Uncle Frank’s restaurant like I always had. Eventually Uncle Frank would want to retire and I could take over the restaurant. Then I could run the restaurant any way I wanted, serve anything I wanted. It would be mine.

I wanted to stay for Jack. I wanted to marry him and live with him forever. But every time I thought of giving up my dream of going to cooking school, of going to France to hone my craft, of opening an upscale restaurant of my own in a big city, I’d start to panic. My throat would close and I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t breathe. If I stayed in Paradise and married Jack, no matter how much I loved him, I’d always feel as if I couldn’t breathe. A piece of me would die. How long would it be before I started hating him for taking away my dreams?

So I left. I was a coward and waited until he was in Alberta before I left for Toronto. I’ll never forget the hurt and disbelief in his voice when he called me there and I had to tell him I couldn’t marry him. I hated hurting him like that. But deep down inside, a part of me was relieved. Yes, I would have had to give up my dreams to marry Jack, but I would have done it in a heartbeat if I thought he really loved me the way I loved him. If I thought it would have lasted.

Okay, I’m not sure where that last couple of lines came from. When I started this exercise I had no intention of writing that. I thought she didn’t want to be stuck in the small town of Paradise for the rest of her life. Is fear of abandonnment why she really left? Because she really didn’t think she was worthy of Jack’s love and he would eventually leave her? It's all starting to make sense. Bridget finds out soon after they break up that Jack has married and his wife is about to have a child. (Okay Janet, I know this isn’t in the version I sent to you - revisions currently in progress.) Despite being the one who left, she is deeply hurt. She believes she did the right thing in not marrying him. It never would have lasted between them.

This was definitely a revelation for me. Would anyone out there like to share their version of this exercise? Or if you like, feel free to comment on my exercise and the conclusions I’ve drawn from it. Wow, this is fun! I feel like I’ve made a breakthrough on this story!


Karyn Good said...

Isn't it amazing where these exercises lead. I think this new revelation will certainly up the conflict and tension in your story. It's like she's fooled herself for a lot of years and now she has to face the truth of why she really left.

Welcome to Paradise sounds like a great story, Jana.

Isn't funny how two people can take the same basic story idea and run in two different directions. In my wip, Common Ground it's the heroine who loves her small town and it's the hero who's reluctanly returning. :)

Prairie Chicks Write Romance said...

Good morning Karyn,
It is like she fooled herself for a lot of years. I was floundering a bit with this story because I hadn't found that deep down, primal conflict inside of my characters before. There was a lot of stuff on the surface: a marriage breakdown, financial trouble, a teenager acting up, a troubled family history. But I hadn't connected all the dots to see where all the trouble originated. Things are finally starting to come together. And I honestly did not know I was going to write what I wrote. It just kind of came out as I was attempting the exercise for this blog. Thanks to Janet for putting up the exercise!

I have not been a big fan of writing exercises in the past. I guess I didn't want to take away the time from the actual writing to do an exercise. But sometimes you have to step back to go forward, I'm starting to realize. You have to know your characters and what motivates them. Once you know that, everything else starts to make sense.

Good luck with your own exercise, Karyn.

Mary Ricksen said...

She never stopped fooling herself!

Great fun!!

Jana Richards said...

Hey Mary,
I'm gonna make that girl remember why she left! She's not fooling anyone anymore, least of all herself!

Thanks for dropping by,

Anita Mae Draper said...

Congrats on the breakthrough, Jana.

You wanna know something funny? In Emma's Outlaw, Emma's goal is attend cooking school back east and then open her own fancy restaurant, too. LOL. But I think that's where the similarity with your story ends because she's hanging tablecloths behind her parent's cafe when she's kidnapped by the bank robbers.

I'll be using Emma's Outlaw for my exercise response on Thursday but as of yet, I don't have it written. Yikes!

Good post, Jana.

Janet said...

Hopefully you come back to this, Jana - I am so happy you found the primal conflict in this story. I know you've struggled with getting enough tension in the story and now that you've nailed Bridget's real fear, the work will have so much depth. And I love the parrallel with the issues she had with her dad when she was young (the real reason she has fear of abandonment?).

We'll have to MSN - because I think that my critique will be totally different now.