On Saying Goodbye




My five-year-old daughter, who often prefers talking to her grandparents on the phone to any real interaction with me, will weep and wail and cling to me as I’m on my way out the door for a critique group meeting…even though I only do this twice a month. My toddler son? That’s anybody’s guess. He’s a mystery. When my mom leaves after visiting us, I’m pretty sure she’s tearing up, but she hides it well (or was that a happy dance I saw as she walked out to her car…?). If my husband’s leaving for a week-long trip, we hug long and hard when I drop him off at the airport.

How do my characters say goodbye? My current WIP starts with a goodbye. It didn’t used to—it started much later, with an arrival. But in order to appreciate the impact of the arrival, the reader needed to see the farewell, see how these two characters left each other to begin with.

Actually writing the scene was hard. It’s angsty, and my mentor told me I could go deeper into the emotions and characters and I was like, No, I can’t. But I could, and did (and I could probably still do more…).

Even though it was hard, it was also fun. This goodbye has tension. It has things my characters said to each other, and more importantly, it is full of the things they wanted to say, but couldn’t. It’s full of their guilt, self-righteousness, sorrow, fear, loneliness, and anger. I really like this goodbye, and I like how specific it is to these two characters in this one situation. Later in the manuscript, I’d like to inject another goodbye, and see how they handle it differently.

The whole exercise has me thinking about how different people say goodbye to each other, how the dynamics change given who’s involved, given how long they’ll be apart and where they’re going (trip to the grocery store? Trip to the Gal├ípagos?), and what kind of baggage they’re carrying (emotional? Carry-on? Checked?). Is it a physical goodbye, with kissing and hugging? Does one character cling to the other character's leg, wailing, “Don’t go Mommy, don’t go” even if Mommy is just walking to the side of the house to take out the garbage?

What is left unsaid in the farewell? And, if they’re going to see each other again, how might those unsaid things come up in their reunion? And—currently my biggest concern—is that enough to carry a novel?

5 comments

I love that you put a goodbye before an arrival...that's a great point of departure for a story. And, have you ever yelled at the TV or movie screen when two people are saying goodbye and there's so much left unsaid? There can be so much tension!! I'm giggling because I'm thinking of how you can leave for two weeks or leave to just get the mail and dogs can't differentiate - they greet you the same way when you return! Last but not least, I adore your graphic. I'm going to print it out with your permission and put it on my bulletin board in my office.

Yes, I HAVE yelled at TV and movie characters for not saying what needs to be said!

I'm flattered you like the image, Robin! Feel free to print it out and enjoy! Also, if you like gophers in costume, I have lots on my old blog.

So good!! "What is left unsaid..."

Love this!! It's a brilliant idea! We'll know so much more about the characters from the get-go.

I am intrigued by the goodbye at the beginning! Sounds like you're getting a great workout with your mentor.

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