*Trigger Warning: Brief discussion of suicide attempts and the emotional ramifications thereof. Mentions of cutting and self-harm.*
This week has brought me to a crossroads. I’ve known for a while that I would need to make significant structural changes in my book, but I hadn’t encountered the need in a practical sense until this week. This week I hit chapter fifteen, which focuses on Charlie’s first suicide attempt, and here is where the problems started.
I wasn’t there the first time my friend attempted suicide; I only appeared later. Since the beginning of my involvement, I was aware of the attempt, and it informed my overall perspective. I was afraid of that attempt and the possibility that it could happen again. Sam shares this fear, and it defines much of her character. Sam fears loss and is willing to do extreme things to minimize the risk of losing Charlie. Currently, Sam’s terror is a direct result of the first attempt, and that terror informs the rest of her growth throughout the book. Sam’s growth relies on this event, whereas I wasn’t present for it.
When I first wrote chapter fifteen, I intentionally dulled the emotions of the scene. I did this for a few reasons: to highlight Sam’s naivety and later her denial, to keep the progression of tension in the book consistent, and to reserve the highest level of tension for the climax, which focuses on the attempt that I was a part of. I wanted to keep the emotional momentum steadily increasing throughout the book, but after reading the chapter, I recognized my mistake. The emotions that should be in the scene weren’t there, and they needed to be. That is the whole point of my book.
The issue brings me to a choice. I have several options. I could add tension to the scene, by drawing from my experiences and share those emotions between both scenes. I could remove the first suicide attempt and replace it with the revelation that Charlie is cutting; this would keep the narrative tension consistent with my original plan and would form a basis for Sam’s fears. I could leave the scene as is, which undermines the purpose of my project, or I could change the scene to resemble my experiences by having the first suicide attempt happen before the events of the novel.
Each of these four options has a problem. If I add tension to the scene, I pull focus from the climax and have to rework the emotional landscape of my project. If I remove the attempt, I change Sam’s perspective and approach to the situation; while learning a friend is cutting is awful, a suicide attempt is much worse and inspires the sheer terror that Sam deals with throughout. Option three is unacceptable on all fronts, as the current state of the scene works narratively, but goes against the spirit of my book. Finally, making the scene resemble my experiences seems like the wrong way to go, because it defeats the purpose of fictionalizing the events. I changed the story, ultimately, to remove unnecessary details and preserve the privacy of those involved (blog post about it here). I don’t want to tell the story exactly the way it happened because depression exists in many different ways, and I want my book to reflect that.
The heart of my novel depends on what I choose, but the choice is mine to make. As the author, it always has been. It’s nice to have a choice this time around. I’m not going to waste it.
Thank you for listening and for your continued support.
Project Status: Editing is currently on hold as I finish my outline and re-organize from there.