Sunday, October 11, 2009

A picture sparks a thousand words

The Subversive Stitchers have been with me in one form or another for years. They moved from the Midwest with me and took up residence on my computer in the converted dining room, now office. But they're a silent bunch. Some times I don't think they like me very much. But I so want to get to know them, learn their stories and fill my novel with their pithy life lessons and experiences and humor.

Mostly they just ignore me. I'm not the pushy sort --avoid conflict like the plague. Some would diagnose me as passive-aggressive perhaps with an emphasis on passive. But when I want something, I can be persistent -- just passive. So I've let these ladies and their men and even their children dominate me with their silence and turned backs and firmly closed mouths.

They run roughshod over my thoughts and jump into my mind at every turn, but they stand silent. Sometimes I can't even see their faces or their hands. Their hands are important since they are stitchers. But even those lay still in their laps.

Yesterday in frustration I took out my favorite Sharpie pen and a large piece of paper from my roll of craft or freezer paper and began drawing my characters. What characters they are!

Up until this rendering of the Subversive Stitchers, they had huddled together enmasse. But when my pen began to move on the paper, I drew three ovals in the center of the paper. "Of course," I said. These are the three main characters to whom all the action will flow from or around. Two more faces over here -- stitchers, but in more supportive roles. More and more circles began to appear on the paper in single file or in small groups around this original triumvirate.

From this center trio, I added more ovals to the sides of the paper, added dots for eyes, and drew lines to connect them to the individual stitchers. Rita's mother and daughter. Yes, yes. I smiled fondly at the stories they had told me and then I stopped.

Hey, when had Rita and her family joined Claire and Brett? They had been two very different families and different times and locations. Well, I'll be! Why not combine the two sets of stitchers? This had been my stumbling block for too many years. I liked both groups of characters, but couldn't figure out how to make them work. Never thought of combining them. They are so different. One a group of 'artists' and the other a group of 'housewives' -- except for Rita. Hmmmm.

I don't know if you've had this problem where characters seem to leap in your mind, tell you a little bit about themselves and then won't say any more. Or they stand in front of a brick wall and have no place to go. That was Rita and her mother and their little group of friends.

I stood contemplating this new trio and realized just how well it worked. It even added conflict! Two factions of stitchers -- why not? Held together by their love of thread and fabric. Things were heating up in my little band of antagonists.

I continued to add faces to the sides of the paper. Claire's affair with the college president. Hmmm. I looked at the face, added a couple of whisps of hair to his bald pate and contemplated whether I wanted Claire involved with this man or not. Certainly their relationship was coming to an end.... He might be useful. Just not sure how, yet. And on and on I drew. I forgot names or what the last manifestation of names I had chosen. And then I began drawing rough outlines of important locations, including the river.

As I write this I can look over at the wall next to my desk and see them staring at me. And then I realized why they are so silent -- I forgot to add their mouths! All except for Rita. She has a sunny smile. She looks like she wants to say something. Perhaps this is her story afterall.

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