Writing Through Plastic Wrap
Writing is hard enough, but I think that the way I was taught – to think of the whole story, essay, whatever, create the famous outlines teachers love so much, and then write it out consecutively, sentence after sentence – can be crippling. It’s rare that a literary piece just forms complete and whole in your head and then you just somehow extract it and put it on paper or the screen. A writing lifetime could pass waiting for that. I think it’s more often that the process of writing begins to create the scene. Often when I’m creating a new scene, at first I see only dim shapes moving, as if through layers on layers of plastic wrap. Maybe I see three people and guess who they are. I write that down. On the next revision, some layers are gone; the faces are coming into view. Another revision and how, yes, you see what they’re wearing, what’s in their hands, how they move, details of their space, the words they say. You begin to feel your way into their hearts.
For example, in the very last scene of When We Were Strangers, first I saw just two people – Irma and Niko. Then I looked more closely and there was a third. Ah, Molly. And a smaller figure, Sofia. I worked harder and saw Molly’s dress, its color and sheen. Later I saw Irma reaching, despite herself, to study the seams. I saw a letter, no a telegram, and worked on that image. It’s a chess game too. If a telegram is to appear at the end, you must prepare for its coming far back in the novel. It’s a difficult process, painful sometimes to go into the dark places with your people, but like all deep relationships, the journey is worth it in the end.
For me, it’s also important to see the places my character saw. For example, when Irma looks down from Opi at the “big city” of Pescasseroli and we know that she knows no more, really, of the world than this view, it helped me to remember when I stood on the Opi road on bright winter day. If you’d like to see more images from Opi or more of the writing process, please visit my website: www.pamelaschoenewaldt.com.
For a world without strangers,
“If you leave Opi, you’ll die with strangers,” Irma Vitale’s mother always warned. Even after her beloved mother’s passing, 20-year-old Irma longs to stay in her Abruzzo mountain village, plying her needle. But too poor and plain to marry and subject to growing danger in her own home, she risks rough passage to America and workhouse servitude to achieve her dream of making dresses for gentlewomen.
In the raw immigrant quarters and with the help of an entrepreneurial Irish serving girl, ribbon-decked Polish ragman and austere Alsatian dressmaker, Irma begins to stitch together a new life . . . until her peace and self are shattered in the charred remains of the Great Chicago Fire. Enduring a painful recovery, Irma reaches deep within to find that she has even more to offer the world than her remarkable ability with a needle and thread
Thank you, Pamela, for a beautiful guest post. Please check out my review of When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt here.