Reply To: Exercise 9

Home Forums MASTERING CHARACTER ARCS Exercise 9 Reply To: Exercise 9

Joanna Jelen

Hi Peter,

I hope all is fine with your family.

Here are answers to your questions. I really hope my story will show all these problems/nuances better than I’m doing it in the exercises 🙂

1. So… Justyna sacrifices her American dream to maintain a principled view on marriage – that it is meaningful. with both spouses in love. If I have this right… Does it work?

Yes, you put it in better phrase. Although I’d need to add more in my story about the American dream, its poetry. I only have the mundane way of explaining the fraud marriage and green card issues.

2. A lot depends on how this would be written. I have some questions. Some may be tough, but I hope they are helpful.

Your questions are very helpful. I so much appreciate your help. You make my story smarter, more meaningful. I’d love more of your help if it’s possible. Do you offer any developmental edit and advice? Please let me know and thank you. 

3. If Justyna has come to appreciate true love, why doesn’t she declare it to Jay?

If Jay never said he loves her (and there were moments he could, and there were moments it looks like he loves her) but instead several times he repeated he doesn’t want to get married again and only wants Justyna’s friendship (and body as they were intimate), why would she burden him with her declaration? She feels that telling him the truth would be like pushing him into the fraud marriage which she doesn’t want to do anymore. As I mentioned, he proposes but tells her it’s because of his gratitude for helping him, so it’s not the marriage she wants.

4. Will readers dislike her for saying goodbye in a note instead of in person? Will they think she is cowardly?

Justyna and Jay ended their last meeting/date with a final breakup, so I think her call (it’s a call from the airport and leaving a massage) may be seen as a type of an act of bravery. She didn’t need to contact him at all. All was said, they broke up, she could forget about Jay. But first, she promised to let him know when she’d be leaving to Poland, so she is keeping her word. Second, telling about her love in the last moment is not a burden for him anymore because she is leaving. It’s not a sneaky way to get him into marriage.

5. If she loves Jay and understands what love is, why does she lie to him?

So, I imagine she lies while they’re arguing/breaking up. I’d like to use her lie as the last straw, a lie of passion to stop the whole argument. Her heart is breaking as Jay proposes without saying he loves her, only giving her stupid rational reasons, her hopes are destroyed, so to make him go away and be left alone with her broken heart, she says she already accepted another man’s proposal. That he is too late. That there is nothing he can do and should just leave. If she hurts him, he’d go.

6. Does it make sense that she values the abstract idea of love so much that she gives up on staying in the US, but does see or appreciate the tangible instance (Jay) enough to take a step toward that love? Will this be clear to readers?

Early in the book, I have Justyna talking with her best friend who explains that living in the USA illegally (she could stay illegally without getting married for green card, right? Millions do) is like living in a cage. The moment she hears her parents are sick in Poland, she would either go to visit them without the chance of coming back to the USA or won’t go to see them at all. Plus constant fear of INS (in 1995 it was still INS) checking her legal status—so it’s a must reason for getting legal status. In her case marriage for green card is the only option. Therefore, once she accepts that she can’t go with the fraud marriage anymore because she is in love with someone else, I think it’s clear and heart touching reason to be accepted/appreciated by readers. Besides, who cares about American dream if you heart is broken?

7. If she has changed, why does she still lean on the crutch of deception? Is she still an unreconstructed liar at the end?

Well, she lies for ‘greater goods’ or in the ‘moment of passion’—not that it’s an excuse. So, she changed her view about fraud marriage, her not very unique talent in painting but she still lies when she is pushed in the corner. Doesn’t it make her more human? She tries but fails still. However, she will tell the truth during the phone call from the airport, so eventually she is changed, right?


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