Small Cuts (14) Elaine

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Now here is Elaine again:

When Oliver pulled me against him I completely lost my composure. Part of it was nerves, part of it was my loneliness, but the rest of it was Oliver’s warmth, his strength and his transparent feelings for me. I found myself relishing the feel of his arms around me, his gentleness and the sweet words of comfort he murmured in my ear. “It’s ok, sweetheart. I’m right here. Everything’s going to be alright.” In that moment, I desperately wanted to believe him.

With a deep shuddering breath, I pulled away. “I’m sorry, Oliver. I can’t. This is all just so…” I didn’t finish, unable to find the right words. What was it, exactly? Scary? Wrong? Overwhelming? Any one of those words fit, but didn’t cover the whole of it. Beneath each of those feelings lay the undeniable truth. I was here because Oliver wanted me. I needed someone to want me, to love me the way I always hoped James would.

“All so…?” Oliver prodded. I averted my eyes but he stepped forward and held me by the shoulders. “Talk to me, Lainey.” He paused, lowering his head. “Or maybe don’t say anything at all.”

He moved in to kiss me but I braced my hands against his chest, keeping him at a distance. The pain and disappointment showed in his eyes. I shook my head to clear it. “Don’t. Don’t do this, Oliver.”

He nodded, shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. “I think I fell for you the moment I laid eyes on you,” he said softly. “All this time waiting. Wanting you. Falling in love with you. It’s been torture.”

“But … but James,” I stammered and Oliver stiffened.

“James is a fool,” he said sharply. “He doesn’t deserve you, Elaine. He doesn’t make you happy.”

He was right. James didn’t make me happy, but I still wanted him to. I wanted my husband to love me the way he did when we first met. What had gone wrong? I felt the sting of tears again and looked toward the ceiling to keep them from spilling over. “And Genevieve? What about Gen, Oliver?”

He sighed heavily and lifted a hand, let it drop. “Oh, Elaine… if only we’d met each other first.” His voice gruff and full of emotion, he said, “I love you, Elaine.” He paused, swallowing. “I’m laying it all on the line, right now. I love you and I want to be with you. I haven’t figured out what the hell to do about it, but there it is.”

My stomach knotted and my already racing heart squeezed in my chest. A thousand thoughts ran through my head in quick succession. Life with Oliver. For a moment I allowed myself the fantasy —imagining the way he would love me, cherish me. I pushed a fist against my sternum to steady my breathing. I thought of James’ reaction. Would he be stoic, logical, always the lawyer, thinking out the details of a separation? Or would he fight for me, beg me to stay, profess his undying love for me? Perhaps that was more the fantasy. Nevertheless…

“Elaine.” Oliver gripped me by the shoulders. “We don’t have to decide anything right now. I just want you to tell me… Do you feel the same way? Or have I just made a huge mistake?”

Nevertheless, I thought. It was the fantasy I chose to believe. I have to tell Oliver… He’s my friend and I owe him the truth.

“Lainey?” Oliver said, breaking my reverie. “Say something.”

I nodded and started to speak, when at the same time, both our phones began to ring.

Writing and Self Censorship

Adventures in novel writing.

This really applies across the entire spectrum of writing –blogging to novel writing and everything in between.

I wrote a post a few months ago called Writing Romance In the #MeToo Era. In summary, the post was about how we as writers need to be conscious of how we portray the development of a romance, not as semi-stalker behavior (guy chases girl until she finally gives in) but in a healthy way (still can be exciting). There is one thing that has been rattling around in the back of my head since I wrote that piece. An extension, if you will, of the idea that writers have responsibility to the reader. In the context of my previous post, I still believe that is true. But…

There is a difference between writing an uncomfortable theme into a story and glorifying it. I believe in making that distinction clear. Isn’t some of the most compelling fiction that which explores the most troubling aspects of human life: heartbreak, betrayal, injustice, psychosis, and even death? How much greater is the satisfaction at the end of a story when the characters successfully overcome what seem to be the most insurmountable odds? The direst of circumstances? The writer must plumb the depths to pull the hero from the mire. And the mire might be pretty revolting.

Nevertheless, in the way that writing about a serial killer doesn’t make you one, neither does writing about any other abhorrent behavior make you guilty of that particular sin. In this confusing atmosphere of political correctness, we may feel the heat of closer scrutiny. It is my personal feeling that even truly awful themes can be explored and written about with tact and style rather than shock and vulgarity. However, not every writer will have the same set of standards or comfort level. Fortunately, we each have the right to set our own. But as a reader and viewer, I always have the option to look away.

Time and Relativity

No it’s not a post on physics… But it is about relativity to the observer (either a character, or you, the reader).

Writing a story like Small Cuts, in which the tale is told from the perspectives of not one, not two but four different characters is a challenge. Not to mention that the scenes are not strictly chronological. There have been overlaps, some jumping ahead and some flashing back from the characters’ points of view. More than one of you has mentioned how difficult it must be to keep track of the details. And you would be correct!

One basic way I’ve organized the story as I write it, is to keep the sections as individual documents rather than writing one continuous manuscript. This allows me to have multiple documents open at the same time for quick reference as to what happened previously, both in the full narrative and in the individual character’s timeline.

The second tool I use is a timeline spreadsheet: a log of the major plot points and bits of dialogue that are crucial to the story. I started doing this while I wrote my first novel —a mystery with a progressive revealing of clues— and found it to be indispensable. For a shorter work like Small Cuts, which I think is going to end up as a long short story (under 30,000 words) I would usually not need one. However, the multiple points of view require a great deal of coordination so that it all melds seamlessly.

I’ll use the story to explain what I mean.

In the last section featuring James, I back up in time from what I had written for the other three characters. Oliver and Elaine have met at the Center City Hotel, Genevieve has left the house to see what Oliver is up to. James, however, is still in his driveway waiting to back out on to the street to leave for his golf outing. He sees Oliver drive past, Elaine is still upstairs in bed and Gen is at home in her fugue state. The critical issue in this section of the story —beginning when everyone gets up, to James following Oliver and Gen tracking him down, to Elaine meeting Oliver in the lobby and the emergency vehicles driving by— is making sure there is enough time for each of the characters to perform the actions they have taken in the order in which I’ve written them. Here’s a breakdown for you:

Genevieve is the first one to rise. She goes downstairs, makes coffee and then blacks out at the window while staring at the birds. She doesn’t realize Oliver has gone until she snaps out of it. We know he hasn’t been gone long because the shower is still steamy and his scent lingers. Gen takes a minute to check the news, look for Oliver using the phone app and dress and leave the house.

Oliver is up and out of the house just a little bit ahead of James at his own house. He drives past James as he is backing out of the driveway and then continues onto Center City where he parks in the hotel garage. Oliver is early for his meeting with Elaine so he goes for a walk around the park. Meanwhile, James has abandoned following Oliver and is now speeding toward his original destination: the golf course. He is delayed by getting lost and having to circle back into the city. This puts him on the same stretch of road at the same time as Genevieve.

Elaine is about half an hour behind the rest of them, having risen just after James leaves to shower and dress for her brunch date with Oliver. For reasons I have yet to explain, she has taken a different route into the city but arrives just as emergency vehicles are speeding past the hotel to an unknown crisis. (By now you all have figured it out but Ollie and Elaine are oblivious.)

I’m sure you can see what a mess this might have been if I’d neglected to include enough time for the various scenarios to play out. Ideally, this piece would be best mapped out with a chart with a line for each character as they carry out their actions. I wish I’d thought of it sooner, but this is one of the rare occasions that I am writing by the seat of my pants. *Note to self: buy huge whiteboard.* Nevertheless, I’ve made liberal use of my post-it notes for the details of my timeline. Thank goodness I buy them by the case! And at least they are moveable if I find myself with an inconsistency or a paradox of some kind.

Anyway, every writer does it just a little bit differently. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to organize your work. Unless of course, you don’t organize it at all… and run the risk of making enormous errors in the timeline!

Wishing you happy writing and productive editing!