Do you ever wonder why an author chooses a certain word or includes a particular detail in her book? Do you ever read a scene and think: Why did the writer take the story’s action in that direction? At Figment, we like to know the story behind the story. Which is why we were super excited when Lara Avery shared a scene from her new book, Anything But Ordinary, and gave us some insight into her writing process.
Anything But Ordinary is the story of Bryce Graham, a teenager who seems to have it all: great friends, a loving family, a supportive boyfriend. But she loses everything after a freak accident at the Olympic diving trials leaves her in a coma. When she awakes—five years later—it seems as if life has moved on without her.
In this scene, Bryce has just awoken from her coma. She has no idea she’s been asleep for five years. As she interacts with her parents, they are unsure of how to break the news. Also in the scene: Bryce’s younger sister Sydney, who was 12 at the time of the accident and has changed considerably in five years.
You can read the entire scene here. Below are some juicy excerpts with thoughtful notes from Lara about why and how she wrote the scene:
This was a tricky scene to navigate. It had to be exposition because it’s the first chapter of the novel, but it also had to be incredibly disorienting and dramatic to fit with the content. The rhythm of a significant scene like this doesn’t allow for the characters to take each other in or get rested in their surroundings. Appearances, dynamics, and history had to be established within a few lines or less so as not to take away from the pacing, but also had to be crystal clear so there’d be no confusion as to who’s who and what’s what.
Sensations like this one, as well as the fact that Bryce hadn’t noticed her arms injected with tubes, add to the idea that she is in an otherworldly head space where this coma isn’t a real thing. If she had really felt altered in some way, her physical discomfort would be the first thing on her brain. She would have felt the tug of time through the impact it had on her body. It speaks to Bryce’s character, considering it’s only when she begins to feel vulnerable emotionally that she acknowledges her body’s weakness. She’s used to being both mentally and physically tough, so when one breaks down, the other comes with it.
I debated on several things Sydney could have been doing here. Initially I had her putting on one of Bryce’s Team USA swimsuits and pretending she was Miss America. Then I realized that though Sydney probably looked up to her sister, Bryce would know how she’d want to forge her own stardom, in an area not only completely separate from Bryce (Broadway star), but also in a role in which Bryce felt particularly uncomfortable (someone who likes wearing fancy prom dresses). This mix of admiration and resentment from both sisters was important to establish right away.
Body language plays an enormous part in this scene, as it does with most scenes in this book. I use it to dig tunnels into secondary characters’ heads, where close third person narration can’t go.
Here I drew from the weirdness of seeing my parents after long semesters at college. They’d have traded in their car or something, and for a second I wouldn’t recognize them. Watching your parents get gray hair makes all the papers and assignments you were stressing about seem really hollow. Bryce’s parents—as mine pointed out after reading the book—are eerily similar to my own. Not in appearance, but in mannerisms, and in the way they treat Bryce. I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision or not. I didn’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write my parents in here,” but I certainly didn’t stop myself when I noticed their habits coming out in Mike and Elizabeth. It’s a super emotional spot to put oneself in as a writer, but I think it’s only fair. If your characters are going through all this stuff, you’re not going to write it the best you can if you don’t make yourself vulnerable, too. And for the record, my parents are pretty used to popping up in my fiction by now, so no hard feelings!
Bryce didn’t recognize her sister right away because their distance, as opposed to immediate closeness, sets up a parallel between them. Sydney is 17; Bryce feels 17. Bryce’s vague recognition gives the impression had they been in high school at the same time (not as sisters) they would have been like two ships passing in the night. They might have noticed each other in the hallway once or twice, but probably would have never spoken because they ran with different crowds. The implications of this relationship transfer to their home—what is supposed to be an intimate, domestic space—therefore building tension.
Here are my parents again. All loving couples disagree. I’m sure genetics will cause me to do the same “frustrated shake of the head” thing when/if I ever get hitched.
Oh, cigarettes. The cliché of all clichés. A character who smokes immediately becomes her cigarette, and perhaps the act of smoking itself. However, I think as long as a character has other things going on to shape her habit, they are an amazingly useful fictional tool. In Sydney, smoking is rebellion paired with self-indulgence and comfort, a slight death wish, and disregard for others. All wrapped up in a smoky smell. In real life, of course, cigarettes are terrible.
Somebody I know has a beautiful freckle like this. I can’t remember who, but it is actually me who likes to pretend it is an earring, not her.
The underwater simile develops Bryce’s psyche based on her experience, and travels in the larger metaphor of Bryce being drowned by her past, never really being able to get out of the water after she dove in that fateful day.
I remember laughing about that dramatic pause because I wrote the majority of this two years ago, when I was 22. In a funny way, the pause can almost be read like Bryce is disgusted or disappointed by being 22. She’s right. It was a pretty weird age.