by Priscille Sibley
On a recent visit with my older sister, she told me I took all the good stuff from our parents. To be honest, they didn’t leave much behind of value, but as the youngest, I would have traded more years with them for the few material things I received. Honestly though, at the time, my sister could have taken anything she wanted or at least have gotten dibs on it.
My sisters didn’t seem to have any interest in the old books I pulled off the shelves, my grandfather’s sheet music (from his days playing honky-tonk in a speakeasy), or the odds and ends, snapshots, whistles, or an old fountain pen, I found in my grandfather’s desk after he died. At the time these things were trash to my siblings. The junk didn’t go in my oldest sister’s house or into the sleek, newlywed digs of my middle sister. I kept them because I still needed a connection to my parents, and to my grandfather.
Novels are also usually about connections – or disconnects. Human beings push and pull away from each other like protons and electrons in atoms, always circling, always prying and stretching from those connections. It causes tension. In a story, you need that tension. Even if you read the first sentence here, you might recognize that my things, these loose odds and ends, these material mementos I kept to connect were, at least during that conversation with my sister, a source of tension. (It didn’t escalate. I wouldn’t let it that day.)
When we write, there should be tension on every page. Even those things, which can bind, can tear people apart. Let them. As you write, let the tension roar.