Writing the Love Story

My ongoing quest to write enough book by an actual deadline continues. Right now, I'm in the midst of trying to revise all the words (okay, many of the words) into good enough shape to share with publisher-type folks in the foreseeable future.

Although I don't think of myself as having a writing "process," exactly, I'm learning that on this book, at least, revision is where fact gives way to feelings. In my first draft of much of the work, I was cramming in information and trying to identify great, gaping holes. I still have those to deal with. But as I revise, I'm looking at how to take what was a half-page sketch of a situation and turn it into a vibrant scene full of emotion. 

That's not always easy, especially since I'd pretty much become a professional at crushing down my own emotions, at least until recently. While a writer shouldn't let all her feelings out onto the page, at the risk of leaving no room for the reader to feel anything, she also shouldn't hold back the flow entirely. That generates some very dull reading, indeed!

Let me give you an example of something that's challenging me. When Mr. Khánjání had been in prison for nearly three years, his wife of more than half a century died at home after a short illness. He wasn't allowed to visit her. And he wasn't allowed to attend her funeral ... an event that saw hundreds, even reportedly thousands, of people from all strata of society arriving by bus and car from all over Iran. 

By themselves, accounts of the funeral are extraordinary. There are even photos and videos to call upon for a sense of the place and time. But what makes the whole situation so poignant is the renowned closeness between husband and wife over all the preceding years. 

So far, everyone I've interviewed about the couple has described their relationship while gazing into the distance, their lips gently sweeping up at the corners and their eyes going hazy. One of Mr. Khánjání's former fellow prisoners, for example, never met Mrs. Khánjání. He knew her only from his friend's mention of her, his excitement when she was coming to visit, and his sense of strength when she'd gone. "She was his love," this man told me, his face radiant with the memory.

What an inspiration it is for a marriage to make such an impression! And what a challenge it is to craft a story that lets readers experience that love. 

Write what you know, every author hears at one time or another. Like most people, I know what a tight marriage looks like from the outside. Perhaps not one quite like the Khánjánís', but relatable. Getting at the heart of it, though, is hard to do without experiencing the feeling of something in some way similar.

Every time I sit down at my desk and begin again, I realize that I don't have the faintest notion what it's like to be a part of something so grand, any more than I know what it's like to be trapped in a cell.