When you write books and you get really close to your characters, you sometimes forget that they aren’t real. This past week, I found myself mourning for Robin Williams from Caroline’s perspective (my MC from The Proper Order of Things). Caroline grew up watching Mork & Mindy with her siblings:
“You can keep your shoes on, kids,” Dad said as we entered our new home where everything was either white or black. We unpinched our noses once we were out of the hallway, and Dad told us to go on in and explore. Desiree followed me from room to room as if she were afraid of getting lost. We bumped into the twins around every corner, and when they stepped out of the shower that was shaped like a telephone booth saying Nanoo Nanoo, I knew exactly what they meant. This place is so weird it doesn’t even have a bathtub.
While watching this clip from Dead Poets Society today, I couldn’t help but think about Caroline. How would she react to this scene if she were watching this movie? With all of that ripping and tearing and shredding, it would undoubtedly give her those nightmares that make her to talk in her sleep.
This clip inspired me to open a .doc version of my novel and do a search for the word “paper”. I found a few scenes that brought me back to that Robin Williams clip.
I waited for the sound of the paper. When it came it wasn’t just a rustling or flipping sound like usual. This time it was a slamming and scraping and tearing as if Mother were wrapping a present she didn’t want to give away.
“God cares about love, and love isn’t something that belongs on a lousy piece of paper.” She picked up the first piece of paper in reach and began to rip it in pieces. I threw up in my mouth and swallowed as the shreds floated to the floor. The sound of paper always did that to me.
When I held it up closely, I noticed small trails running up and down the page, and I had to flip the letter over to see the Scotch tape. It had been pieced back together so perfectly I might not have noticed it wasn’t a single sheet if I hadn’t taken it in my hands and smoothed the folds out with my palms. I took the second last letter out of the pile and felt it. All of the letters from the first few years had been operated on. The sound of paper filled the closet as I remembered the tearing. I could hear the ripping and shredding and breathing as if I were still a twelve-year-old hiding underneath the bed. Mother called my name.
And finally, a note from Chester…
I promised your mother I wouldn’t tell you what she told me. She wants to tell you herself when you are old enough. You’re older than me, so I’m going to tell you everything. I’ll write short notes on tissue paper and she’ll think they’re just paper flowers.
I was more than pleased to discover the theme of my novel by doing this simple search using the word “paper”. All of the most important elements of my story and its main characters relate to this simple word. If you’re a fiction writer and you have a work-in-progress, this little Find word exercise might help you too. Which word could you search for to find or rediscover your theme?