Novelists open up the private moment.
There’s a letter by F Scott Fitzgerald that I keep in my notebook and draw out and read whenever I have a quiet moment. The gist of it is something quite different to the point of this post; that you have to sell your heart when writing fiction, or at least when you’re starting out. But he describes the quiet moments, girls around the dinner table exchanging gossip, that most writers attempt to turn into fiction at some point in their lives. I know the quiet moments are my favourite ones to write about – the time just after the dawn when the word is still and the protagonist can see, just for a moment, with perfect clarity.
I think that’s what’s so enticing about the private moment. Whether or not the characters realise it, it is in these moments that they reveal the most about themselves, and in turn, it’s when the readers get to discover the most about themselves
I once went to a talk where the speaker said, “We read to remember who we are. We read and say, ‘Yes, that’s me. I felt that.'”
Whether the circumstances match up or not, in reading about Lolita, Humber Humbert reminds us of our own obsessions, like that time we sat for a whole weekend and watched Doctor Who back-to-back. American Gods’ Shadow makes us think of the times we were drifting, and Jay Gatsby crooks his finger at us and says, ‘Remember that weekend when you were seventeen and everything was perfect? You should do that again.’
Real life is made up of private moments. It happens in the cracks in time that we don’t even notice. It’s in the book you read while you’re waiting for a tram, in the dreams you dream when you put on your lipstick. It’s in the slip of fingers over flesh as you dance around each other in the kitchen.
That life, the life that happens in the cracks, is why I write. It’s what I love to write about. Peeling open the moments that make life real, worth it, and studying them in a way we don’t often get to while we’re working and sleeping and otherwise living around them.