Podcast Transcript: Welcome to Episode 3 of Innovative Editing’s The Genuine Writer Podcast. To start out, I want to let you all know that, “Forgiveness. Is more than saying ‘sorry.’”
If you ever saw the movie Just Friends, you’ll understand that reference. If you never saw the movie Just Friends, well, congratulate yourself for having more maturity and more brain cells than me. It’s really an idiotic flick. A funny one. But utterly idiotic. And – in case I have any younger listeners out there – not entirely appropriate either. Not even close.
In the movie, there’s a character named Samantha: a ridiculously popular, ridiculously insane and immature popstar who thinks she’s a “real musician” despite how her only real talent is looking hot on CD albums (yes, it’s an older movie) and posters. She’s constantly trying to write her own deep lyrics that end up being inane beyond belief.
Why am I telling you all of this? One, because we’re going to talk about plotlines that involve forgiveness – and the word “forgiveness” always makes me think of that stupid set of lyrics from that stupid movie. But also because the act/emotion is a lot easier to convey in movies like Just Friends than it is to properly portray in writing.
That’s true about almost every aspect of storytelling that I can think of off the top of my head, minus one: characters’ thoughts. Characters’ thoughts are almost always easier to depict in writing. For obvious reasons, I’m sure.
But anything involving any kind of expressive, heartfelt emotion? If you’re a creative writer who wants to write something other than sheer sap, you’ve got your work cut out for you. It’s hard to capture intense or exceptionally important experiences like love, passion, Christian worship, or forgiveness without turning your writing into an absolute embarrassment.
It’s hard, but not impossible. There are ways to deal with it appropriately, professionally and evocatively.
Let’s say you have Denise and Mark. The two were a supposedly happily married couple until it turned out that Denise has been cheating on Mark for months. All of those late nights at the office “crunching the numbers” weren’t necessary after all. She’s been carrying on an affair with her vice president – a man who interacted with Mark at the company picnic, shaking his hand and slapping him on the back and making congenial small talk as if nothing was going on whatsoever.
Mark has since moved out of the house he and Denise shared for seven years together. He’s staying with an old college buddy of his and has refused to so much as talk to his cheating spouse for weeks now. Which, of course, is completely understandable. She’s trampled all over their marriage vows, and his faith in her is shattered. Why should he have anything to do with her?
Yet, as the author, you intend to bring Mark to a place of forgiveness. You want him to pull himself out of the levels of abject depression, anger and even hatred he has concerning his wife, not for her sake but for his. The story isn’t going to include them getting back together. That may or may not happen in the sequel you’re planning on writing. But Mark needs to have some personal growth before Book 1 ends regardless.
So how do you accomplish that in a realistic, believable way that won’t make you blush for shame after you’ve published it and put it out to the public?
First off, don’t rush the forgiveness. For such a serious issue as adultery, it’s got to take Mark pages and pages and chapters and chapters to get to the point where he can think about Denise without wanting to literally and figuratively wring her neck. He’s got a lot to unpack here, analyzing what she did, whether or not he should have known or could have done something different in their marriage, what her infidelity says about him if anything at all…
There’s a lot of emotional and psychological baggage Mark has to deal with, and it can’t be covered in a short space of time. Or pages.
It also shouldn’t be a eureka moment, where he’s struggling horribly and struggling horribly and struggling horribly, only to wake up one morning completely cured. Forgiveness not only takes time, but it takes baby steps forward. So perhaps in chapter 1, Mark can’t stop thinking about Denise – and despising her every other time he does. By chapter four, he’s joined a local art club that’s helping him refocus his attention. By chapter six, he’s learning about one particular painter’s struggles and how she overcame them. And by chapter 14, he finds himself actively employing those tactics on his own without having to grit his teeth and force a positive mindset.
Then again, he hasn’t seen her in three months by then, so there’s still work to be done. How will he react when they bump into each other at a local bar? Oh the possibilities…
While you’re exploring all those possibilities, what led up to them and what is still to come, don’t have the main character dwell only on the act of forgiveness or not forgiving. Give Mark something else to do in and around throwing beer bottles against the wall and daydreaming about her coming crawling back to him, begging to be taken back as he slams the door in her face. While you’re not risking being sappy so much in that regard, you’re probably going to bore your readers if every sentence is about his feelings. Give Mark something to do and somewhere to be!
But when it comes to the actual act of forgiveness, where he realizes he’s free from anger and hatred and bitterness toward Denise, try not to use too many adjectives. Perhaps he shouldn’t feel “blissfully free,” he should just feel free. And he probably shouldn’t be “intensely grateful” for the knowledge that he can really move on with his life now. He should just be grateful.
Here’s the thing: I love adjectives. And adverbs. I throw so many into my first drafts that it’s appalling, and I have to fight myself every time I edit them down. But even I know that adjectives and adverbs can become melodramatic way too quickly, and when you’re already dealing with an emotion-filled scene or subject matter, your chances of laying it on too thick increase even more.
Finally, try to focus as little as possible on Mark’s feelings. Write about his surroundings in that moment. Write about his future plans, whether immediate or long-term. Write about someone else cutting into his thoughts and completely changing the subject. Any one of those can emphasize the fact that he’s feeling normal: He’s not burdened anymore. He’s ready to interact with the world like he used to back before he learned about what Denise was doing to him.
Basically, if you don’t make that big of a deal out of the amazing act of forgiveness, it’ll somehow highlight just how amazing that moment really is.
Try it out for yourself on your own characters in your own story, and tell me what you think! You can go to www.InnovativeEditing.com to find my email address. In the meantime, here’s wishing you the best on your writing and with your writing goals!