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The Making of a Novel: Serendipity

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I wrote four pages today and something thrilling happened in the midst of the work: I was adding a scene into a previous section, because I realized that I needed a scene that would show why this character -- Mary -- was terrified of writing. I went back to a section on her childhood, and added a scene where she takes a short story to an English teacher. This is 1948 in Wilmington, Delaware -- so while I was writing, I was checking the Internet for the kinds of books high school students read in this time and this place, and I was trying to figure out how they carried their books and what their writing paper looked like.

I had the English teacher react kindly and with encouragement to Mary's offering, which causes her to send the story to a magazine which harshly rejects it (which is why she becomes terrified of writing) and then I moved on to another section of my story. Only a few minutes later, however, I had an "Aha!" moment. I scrolled back to the English teacher scene and had him accuse Mary of forging the story. He was totally smug in his opinion that she had copied it from somewhere else. And this was the thrilling moment -- he said that if she kept what she had done a secret, he would not report her to the principal and would not have to tell her parents. Mary took the same action she had the first time -- sending her story to a magazine -- but this time she does it out of defiance rather than happy encouragement. That was a good change in and of itself.

The thrill was that this little moment echoes the main theme of my story -- a theme about writing and privacy and ownership of ideas. I didn't plan it that way, didn't intend it, but now in the first fifteen pages of the book, I have a scene that foreshadows the climactic action.

Sometimes I think this is the main reason I write: to watch my mind make sense of the world in a way it seems never to be able to do in "real" life.

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