The Birth of Nighthawks
For a number of years I have been working on a novel which I titled “Nighthawks: The Diner.” I do have a first draft of the basic story; but since it is actually five short stories as told by five different people, I have struggled trying to unify the stories with a common thread. One would think the most obvious thread is the diner since all the people and their stories originate there. But I could not get it to work that way without boring the reader from page one. On to the next idea. (Isn’t that what writing is all about anyway?)
Stephen King advises the writer to let the characters lead the story and listen to them as they create situations that build tension, conflict, and anticipation. The other day I sat down and just looked at my story. What if I let Theresa McCarthy, a character from whom the story developed in the first place, be the person who brings it all together?
The whole idea for Nighthawks came from a vacation trip several years ago. My husband, daughter and I traveled to Michigan one summer, and on the way, stopped in Chicago to visit the Art Institute. During our tour through the museum, I saw a painting by Edward Hopper titled “Nighthawks.” It’s a popular work of art, and the more I stared, the more I began to formulate what might have inspired this painting. The subject is simple. Two men and a woman sit at a counter in a diner. There doesn’t seem to be any communication among them. Hopper’s use of stark contrast of light and dark, and the simplicity of subject matter mesmerized me the longer I stared at it.
When we arrived home after our travels, I composed a story based on that painting, but told by a fifth person. I named her Theresa McCarthy. She has her own story which reveals her strength, her compassion, and her initiative in dealing with others. But she also has a flaw with which she struggles. She is not seen in the painting, but she is the central force in the book. I guess Stephen King is correct. I listen to Theresa and write what she tells me.
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