Have you ever written one of those stories that keeps you fighting with every step?
Up until recently, when I thought of ‘fighting’ with my writing, immediately brought to mind would be that screenplay or that novel that, no matter how many times you change this scene or trim that chapter, nothing seems to work.
This past year, I worked on a painting for art class, a still-life done in acrylic. There was one part of the painting I had trouble with — a corduroy coat — and no matter what I tried, it looked like an ugly mess. As my art teacher patiently ran his brush up and down the page, correcting without much thought the disastrous rendition of that poor coat, he explained to me that sometimes a painting can behave like a child, and right now, my painting was in its “teen” phase. In other words, it was refusing to cooperate and become my vision of the corduroy coat. As he went on to tell me, the real struggle comes with knowing when to let go of our work — our ‘child’.
In the process of editing my screenplay (currently titled The Potter’s Field) that had failed to advance in the Nicholl’s this year, I realized that a work of art can behave like an unruly teen in more ways than one.
A teenager sometimes makes moral choices that the parent does not like. The parent never intended for this choice to come to fruition. For instance, no matter how many times a parent may tell their child to stay away from drugs, hanging out with the wrong crowd might lead to an entanglement with illicit substances. A teenager has a will of their own, and, when it all comes down to it, they decide their own moral standard, and not their parents.
When I started writing The Potter’s Field (as a novella under the title Ashes to Ashes), I intended to write a story about how a boy’s guilt leads to the death of himself and his best friend. His guilt was caused by a bout of sexual experimentation with this friend — an event mentioned only passingly in a few, brief sentences.
Like a rebellious teen, however, by the time I’d started the second draft of my little novella-turn-screenplay, The Potter’s Field had made a few moral choices of its own.
I was brought up by a mother who was very verbal about her disgust with homosexuality. My father supported her on this issue, and thus, homophobia became ingrained in my mind up until a year ago when I developed a liking for yaoi manga. After getting over that phase, gay love no longer held the same evil, forbidden premise in my mind (though, because of my Christian beliefs, I still to this day do not condone it), to actually write a graphic scene of this nature seemed unthinkable. Not to mention I am uncomfortable with sex scenes in general. A kiss on the beach is about as far as my writing has ever gotten.
Then along came that unruly teenager.
I slowly began to realize that the story I had created was not a simple tale of guilt and consequence. No, it was much more complicated then that: it was an erotic portrait of an adolescence who’s sexual obsession and suppressed sexuality drive him to madness. My story’s true nature revealed itself to me through the comments of others, but for a very long time I denied it. By consequence, as a novel it was constantly told at a safe arm’s length, and severely lacked in character development. All this because I was afraid what I might write if I dug too deep. Just like my character Harley, who buries his sexual desires, my denial of the story’s nature was hurting me.
The reality check came when I received the judges comments from a contest I entered. To quote one judge: “sexual desire — the bedrock of this story — is absent from the internal conflict of the narrator”.
So here I am squirming through the process of writing about a young man’s homosexual tendencies. Never in a million years would I have guessed I’d end up writing a screenplay/novel about this.
When you have a story inside you that’s begging to be let out, sometimes you don’t have a choice. You have you let your baby stumble blindly through an immoral, reprehensible world and make every mistake known to man. Once they’ve come to a life-changing conclusion based on their exploits, you have no choice but to pen the last word and let that child become a fully-fledged adult.
Even if it means sometimes standing aside on the parent when all you want to do is keep your story ‘clean’.