A fellow writer recently blogged about how a nice girl like her could write the bloody, gruesome details of murder and mayhem in her crime novels. No mystery to me, but I suppose it takes a writer to appreciate the magic which ensues at the death of a character. Her blog got me thinking about my version of this journey into destruction. How did a crazy girl like me produce believable scenes of the delusions and delirium of impending madness?
I call it the “Clockwork Orange” scene. It’s the moment in my YA fantasy, Fractured, when the narrative finally fully explores the degree to which my hero is fractured. Lisen has recently returned to her native Garla after seven years spent on Earth. She has just experienced the horrific murder of her only friend in Garla, after which she kills the killer in order to save her own life. That, coupled with a series of earlier heavy stressors, has weakened her reserves, and she slides into a pseudo-psychotic break, unable to discern the difference between her real life in Garla and her memories of her old life on Earth.
As she sits in a bath, washing away the blood and mud of the disastrous events of the night before, she slips softly into the persona of Little Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Odd choice, that. Not really. A bath scene had occupied that space in the book for quite some time. As I reworked the current draft to incorporate the earthly visit and its sequelae into the text, I realized as I approached this scene that Lisen’s situation and mental state were not unlike those of the movie version of A Clockwork Orange’s humble narrator as he lounges in the bath near the end of the story. Demoralized, demonized, disillusioned and, most importantly, feeling utterly alone, Alex sings “Singin’ in the Rain” to cheer himself up. What a glorious picture.
This is my most-favorite-ever scene I’ve written. I crawled out so far on the proverbial limb that my literary nose bled, and I waited for the thinning limb to break. And in the first version, I did take a tumble. But the members of the writing workshop I was attending at the time made multiple suggestions for how to engage the un-Clockwork-initiated more fully in Lisen’s plight, and I wrote them all down for later reference when I would return to it on the next pass through the book.
That pass did not come for nearly a year. I kept dreading facing the scene again. I’d promised myself I would make it work no matter what. I loved the potential in that scene for setting the stage for Lisen’s temporary insanity while pointing out the value of both a book and a movie that I loved. I arrived at the moment of truth only a few weeks after my mother’s death. I was still numb, and the inner critic had fallen silent. I feared any attempt I made to revive the potential at that point in time would fail for sure, but I faced it regardless, determined that when my workshop sent me home with renewed criticism, hopefully focused on more specific issues, I could keep reworking it until I got it right.
I followed all of their suggestions. I started in a different place and then moved on to the old beginning. I continued through the scene, tweaking here, finessing there. Then with a pounding heart, I offered it up to my group for their reconsideration. I read all twelve pages to them, and when I finally finished, I waited.
Oh, I really fucked up this time, I thought.
Then one woman spoke up and said, “I get it. I really get it.” And the rest went on to join her in their praise. I had invited them into the heart of madness, and they had joined me. I’m telling you, it’s the best scene in the book, but you’ll have to read nearly all of it to get there. Best damn limb crawling I’ve ever done.
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