Do the scenes we write change from day to day?
January 2, 2017
I HAVE THIS THOUGHT that often intrigues me and sometimes troubles me.
It should do neither.
I sit down at my word machine and I know I have a scene to write on my novel. The idea is sketchy.
I have a location.
I have a few characters.
I have no idea what will happen.
I could have written the scene yesterday.
Maybe I should wait and write the scene tomorrow.
I’m falling behind on my self-imposed deadline for Secrets of the Dead and must write the scene today.
My hero Ambrose Lincoln has just stepped off the train in Baden Baden while German soldiers patrol the streets, still littered by the travesty of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, a night that won’t be soon forgotten, a night that begins the horrors of a world war. A Gestapo captain meets him.
I take a deep breath, endeavor to tie my new scene to my last scene, and begin to write:
Captain Emmerich turned and gestured grandly toward the empty streets.
“See?” he said. “You have nothing to fear in Baden-Baden.”
He stepped aside, and Lincoln descended the steps to the pavement. He was facing a strange town on a strange mission under strange circumstances at a strange time in his life.
Somehow, none of it seemed strange.
He may have only been walking the back alleys of his mind.
But he had been here before.
Or he had been to someplace that looked a lot like a dying Baden-Baden when the lights went out. Lincoln walked down the dark street and left the glow of the gaslight behind him. The snow against the building had melted. By morning, it would freeze again. The cold dug deep into an old wound just below the third rib on his left side. In time, the cold would end the pain as well.
Baden-Baden had become a town of silence.
It was as though the town was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid.
On the platform, Captain Emmerich motioned toward the shadows. A small woman with red hair clipped to her neckline and wearing a black leather overcoat walked toward him. “Don’t lose the American,” he said. “Keep your distance, but keep your eyes on him. He will suspect one of us. He does not trust any of us. He will not suspect you. He will regard you as simply another misplaced woman who needs a little help. If he offers to help you, let him. But don’t lose him. He will lead us to the girl, and she will give us the film.”
“What about the American?” she asked.
“Don’t worry about the American.”
“Leopold will take care of him.”
“Leopold is not here.”
Captain Emmerich smiled. “He will be when it’s time for the American to die,” he said.
Emmerich turned and walked away as the train left the station. The whistle blew, and it sounded like a cry in the night.
So, for better or worse, there it was.
What would I have said if I had written the scene yesterday?
How would it read if I had waited to write the scene tomorrow?
Would it have been better?
Would it have been worse?
I only know one thing for certain.
It would have been different.
If I’m writing a depressed scene, I need to be depressed. If my heroine is crying, I need to cry. If I’m happy, what will the scene say, and will I have to re-write it?
We write with the perspective we have at any particular frozen moment in time.
Or as my wife says, if I write the scene before I have my first cup of coffee in the morning, I may kill somebody. She’s still sleeping. She won’t hear the shot. But she knows some poor soul is awaiting burial by the time she gets out of bed.