I got an email from a reader asking me to write more about the process of writing my novel. I have been reluctant to turn this blog into a sort of writing journal. Writing journals are boring– I should know, I keep one. However, I do sometimes write something there that may be interesting and helpful to other writers. So here is one such entry.
Insult or Injury?
I was working today on a scene in which Chaurrise and her mom go to buy a special occaision dress, only to discover that they are too large to fit the dresses in the store. I had to play it easy with this scene. As the famous book said “Fat is A Feminist Issue” and if I hit it too hard, the reader may feel preached at and forget at Chaurisse and her mom.
In real life, all of us larger gals have had the experience of going into a boutique and enduring not only the embarrassment of not being able to fit the clothes, but also having to deal with a snotty sales person, to boot. On more than one occaision in NYC, the salesgirl has looked up from her magazine and announced to me, before I can even look on the racks: “We only go up to an eight.”
The problem with writing the scene is that the disappointment of not being able to find a dress coupled with a mean saleswoman would make the story about the tyrany of body expectations and not Chaurisse and her mom. So what I did was make the salesgirl sort of nice. She is uncomfortable as soon as Chaurisse and her mom walk in the store, but doesn’t say anything. Chaurisse thinks it is racism and she and her mom try to give clues that they can, in fact, afford such fancy clothes. When they realize the thing about the sizes they are embarassed and so is the salesgirl.
“What size do these dresses go up to?” I asked.
She squeezed her eyes almost shut. “Ten?”
So with just that question mark, I establish that every person in this scene is a human being. Instead of adding insult to injury, I chose between the two. I don’t think I sugar-coated the situation, but I just turned the volume on the injustice down enough for us to hear the characters talk,think, and feel.