The Stories Begun











It’s writing Tuesday again!!  I cannot tell you how glad I am for this!  Usually I have at least one idea running around in my head, but not this time.  So, it’s time for another thousand or so words of creative something.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been re-reading a TON of my old stuff and determining what I want to do with it.  Some of it is still in that scary writer’s limbo: I know I want to do something with it, I just have no idea what that something might be.  Some of it has moved up into the “work on it soon, you dip” file (this is a slightly more urgent file than the “to be worked on” file mentioned in the last writing Tuesday post, just to be clear).  None of it has been tabled.  But, because of the nostalgia trip, I decided this week’s one shot (and next week’s) will be from images in as yet undeveloped scenes from these stories that have been flitting around in my conscious for a while.  This week’s scene is at least three years old (I began saving the ideas for it in April of ’08) and it’s about time I started writing parts of it down.  It’s from the rodeo family series I’m developing, the third book called Life on the Edge of the Grand Canyon.  The series is currently named after the first book because I’m too lazy to figure out what I want to call it.  Mostly, I’m working on this because it involves one of my favorite characters.  If I could marry this man, I would (Is that weird, creating a character you’d marry? NAAAAHHHHHHH!!).  You’re welcome, Celeste (That’s right, I so know you would, too!).

Addison hated to call Jason with something this huge.  Well, she hated to call anyone with something so monumental, but Jason Stern especially.  She wasn’t a fool.  She knew how he felt, she knew that whatever she asked of him–unreasonable or no–would be done.  It felt like she was using him.  Then again, shouldn’t thirty years be enough time to get over someone?  It wasn’t as if she hadn’t given him his space.  He had come to her after thirteen years of silence.   That should have meant he was over her.  That should have meant that calling in a favor wasn’t a big deal, that they were just friends and that was that.  That should have meant she didn’t have to feel guilty.

But she did.  Addison could spend all day with the wouldacouldashouldas, but it didn’t stop the truth of how she felt.  Or the fact that she knew that thirteen years had been enough time for Jason to become a good man, but not enough for him to “get over” her.  Thirty years had been enough for that, maybe, but not enough for him to want somebody else.  Jason was a problem, a good friend, but a problem.  So, Addison hated to call him with anything, but especially something this huge.  Who was she kidding?  This wasn’t just calling in a favor.  Besides, she knew that it hurt her husband, Levi, that Jason might be able to do something that Levi couldn’t.

However, despite all this, Addison needed Jason.  Or, more correctly, her daughter, Coreen, needed him.  So, Addison called.  Three seconds, two rings, one deep breath.

“Hello?”

“Stern!”

“Ad!”

“That’s me.  Please tell me you’re home.”

“I am.  What’s wrong?”

“Who says–”

“Don’t play with me Ad,” Jason snapped at his long-time friend.  “Let’s be honest, you call me for two reasons: good news and bad news.  You never call just to say hey.  Besides, who on this green earth cares if someone’s home if the news is good?”

“You’ve got me there.  On all counts,” Addison said tiredly.  “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Never you mind.  At least, not right now.  Tell me what’s wrong and we’ll figure out you bein’ a lousy friend later.”

Addison winced.  When she had met Jason, he hadn’t been nearly so honest or straight-forward.  She had taught him that.  Some days she appreciated it.  Some days she regretted it.  Most days, she couldn’t decide.  This was one of them.

“Coreen’s pregnant.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, that’s about all we can figure to say ourselves.”

“Is the boy in the picture?”

“No, and we don’t want him to be.  Lousy son of a buck, that one.”  Ad smiled through the tears that started to fall.  Jason had been the one to teach her that phrase.  When she was new to college rodeo, Jason had been her gateway to it all for a while.  During this tough time, these were the small things that she had to hold onto.

“What can I do?”

“I hate to do this to you, I really do,” Addison paused for a long moment, gathering the courage it would take to make this request, “but is it possible for you to let Coreen live at your place for a while?  She can’t do school and be a mom at the same time.  We’d come out and pick her up if we could, but she won’t let us.  We’d feel so much better if she were taken care of by someone we know and not in a dingy apartment paid by some waitressing job.  We’ll pay you rent, we’ll help out with any unexpected expenses of any sort, you won’t be responsible for her much at all, she’ll just be a really quiet roommate.  You won’t even see her that much, seeing as you’re on the road so much!” Addison rushed through the last part of her proposal as fast as she could, part from nervousness, part from guilt.  Was there even a justification for her request or was she completely out of line here?

“Ad, don’t be stupid.  When does she move out of the dorms?  She’s at U of A, right?  I’ll make sure I’m there to pick her up.”  Jason didn’t even bother to say yes.  As if there had been any doubt he would do what Addison asked him to do.  She called and he jumped.  There was a disturbing pattern to it all, but in many ways it was the least he could do.  He owed so much to her after the way he treated her when they were together that he had a lifetime of paying her back before he could call it even.

“She has until the end of this week.”

“Good, I’m in town until next week.  I’ll be able to help her get settled.  And don’t you even think about payin’ me rent.  D’you still have my e-mail, hon?”

“Yeah, Stern, I do.” Addison sighed.

“Send me hers and her phone number.  Make sure she knows to expect to hear from me.  We’ll arrange a time for me to help her move out.  I assume you want to be kept in the loop without her knowing?”

“You always were a quick study, Jason.”

“Maybe.  I don’t know about that.  Does she know you’re callin’ me about this?”

“Not yet she doesn’t,” Addison admitted.  “I didn’t want to get her hopes up.  I’ll only send you her info if she agrees that moving in with you’s the smart choice.  Frankly, I think it’s her only healthy choice, but what do I know?  I’m her mother, I haven’t known anything since she was fourteen.”

“You can’t beat yourself up about that, Ad,” Stern objected.  “Every teen is like that.”

“You’d think that, but not every teen runs off to college and gets pregnant their Freshman year.”  Addison wished she could take the judgmental words back as soon as she said them.  She was so glad her daughter hadn’t been there to hear them.  This was one of the reasons Addison secretly thought it was a really good idea her daughter wasn’t letting Levi and Addison come pick her up.  Things were just too volatile right now and were liable to blow up in their faces.  Perhaps in a few months, but right now there would likely be some unforgivable words said that wouldn’t just damage the parent-child relationship, but the grandparent-grandchild relationship to come.  It was time, hard as it was, to back off.  “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know you didn’t.”  Addison was grateful that, no matter how awful she could be, she had a friend like Jason, a friend who always saw the best in her.

“Just keep her safe, Jason.  Do what I can’t.”

“You bet, Ad.”

Jason was glad of the silence as he hung up his cell phone and tossed it on the couch in his sparse living room.  Well that’s going to have to change, he thought at no one in particular.  This was no atmosphere for a teen, much less an expecting mother, much less a child.  He was lucky, though, he had the means to change that.  It was time for a change anyhow.

See you next week with something else inspired by the archives!

~RJLouise

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Conjunctions and fragments: I like ’em!

I know, I know . . . I acknowledge that they’re improper grammar.  I know I begin far too many sentences with conjunctions.  I know I use the fragment for emphasis, even though I’m not “supposed” to.

So what?  Conjunctions are fantastic! They’re beautiful little words that connect several thoughts without losing pace.  They establish several types of connections and contrasts!  Conjunctions make the world go ’round with coordination and clarity!

However, to make my professors happy (as well as attempt some semblance of grammatical propriety), I’m working on the conjunction inundation, though I’m sure I’ll never give up fragments.  If conjunctions are fantastic, fragments are awesome!

Fragments don’t just express a partial thought, they require someone to stop and consider the thought.  The reader has to work to find and establish the context on their own!  Fragments cause the reader to think.  Fragments are disruptive.  And that’s a good thing.

I’ll admit, as writing flaws go, I’m pretty comfy with mine.  Why?  Because that’s the way I’ve observed communication to function.  People finish thoughts, then feel that there are things to add.  Or, they purposely end a sentence before picking up the next one with a conjunction for emphasis.  Fragments that begin with conjunctions are fairly common because that’s an easy way to a) emphasize! and b) to associate the emphasis with the correct event.

When telling a story from first person, adding touches like these is vital.  I–as an author–cannot rely on proper grammar to do my work for me.  To quote Some Like It Hot: “Nobody talks like that!!”  Internal dialogue is especially fragmented and interconnected with ridiculous amounts of primary conjunctions.

Now, is this exceptionally smart?  Not really.  Most people can pull these tricks of emphasis off with little effort . . . which is why they’re so good! Using common, everyday modes of speech in dialogue is the exact way to appeal to an audience.  Simplicity is not a bad thing.

Simple fixes extend to craft as well.  The first thing I do when I’m stuck in a scene is talk it out.  The easier it is for me to narrate any given scene, the easier it is for any audience to access the writing from their position as readers.  I adore books that I can “hear” in my head.  There’s no reason not to set that same standard to myself.

But, to bring this back to regular ol’ buts, learn to use conjunctions appropriately.  Sure, it’s easy to over-use the primary conjunction, to fall into the trap of trying to connect every sentence to the previous one.  Readers are pretty smart.  They’ll make connections you’ll never dream of.  Right now, just worry about using conjunctions and fragments at the right time, maybe even using them together.

Have fun connecting and fragmenting!

~RJLouise



“There are no small parts, just small actors.”  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that (or the industry equivalent) said.  And, honestly, it’s a lie.  Incidentals make up the life and breath of literature.  Small characters are small for a reason.  If they’re too big, they take away from the story that the author is trying to tell.

But!

This does not mean you get to cheat and spend less time on said characters.  In fact, this is a very bad idea.  Small characters need to be there with purpose.  They are small for a reason, but that does not mean they are unimportant (which, of course, is the intention behind that silly phrase that I began my blog with).  Small characters are good things, vital, and must be treated as such.

Before I go into my tips on how to make characters small but memorable, I will share two examples of what I feel are the perfect small characters.

Current Popular Literature: The Hunger Games, Gale.

Before all you Gale lovers raise up in a huff, I’m speaking of the first book only.  Not the series (and, even then, I’d contend he was a minor-ish character, but that’s for a different day).  In The Hunger Games, Gale is physically present in all of three chapters at the very beginning.  It’s well established that he’s  the best friend of the character and, with the way the character reminisces for a few more chapters, you get the feeling there might be more to it than that.  However, soon, he’s gone.  Katniss, the main character, becomes so wrapped up in the Hunger Games and Peeta (the young man who went with her) that she almost completely forgets about her best friend Gale.  However, the reader never forgets Gale.  There’s just enough of Gale at the beginning that the entire time Katniss has to pretend to love Peeta, the reader’s heart is aching for a young man he/she knew for two and a half chapters.  Gale is hardly what I would call important to the story, but he’s memorable enough that his side story can be made to be either as significant or insignificant as the reader allows.

Past Popular Literature: The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Prince Bumpo.

Prince Bumpo is a much smaller character than Gale.  He has two scenes in this particular book.  Regardless, he’s one of the most distinct characters because his main feature is something that all humans can relate to: longing to be something else.  He’s so very human and flawed that it’s easy to like him.  I did an entire paper on the subject of Bumpo’s scenes because of how they’ve been changed over the years, but here’s the essential: Prince Bumpo is in love and feels inadequate.  So he asks Dr. Dolittle to change him so that he may become more attractive to his Sleeping Beauty (who he once happened upon and even kissed, but she ran away in horror at the sight of him).  The Doctor agrees, in exchange for a boat and his freedom from Bumpo’s father’s prison.  In the end, a quick fix is made and the Doctor feels horrible for practicing this deceit.  As they leave, the Dolittle’s companion, Dab-Dab the Duck, points out that the Prince really should learn to be happy with who he is, as he’s a good sort of fellow.  Bumpo is memorable, beacause he is so much of what we are.

So, how do I suggest going about the making of good small characters?

  • Give them one thing that is particular to them.  Trevor, one of my minor characters, is a good listener.  That’s his deal.  Because of that, he becomes–while remaining a peripheral character–competition in the love interest category.  Or, at least, that’s how one of the other males (who is a much bigger character) sees it.
  • Make them relatable.  Minor characters tend to be incredibly quirky or incredibly generic.  Either one works, as people tend to see themselves as too individual for the crowd or as someone who can blend with the best of them.  Side characters fill that function.
  • Don’t fill in too many features, one or two is good.
  • Minimal is a great idea at the start.  If it comes later that the character needs fleshing out, you’ll find out then.
  • Too much background that does not involve the main character is a death sentence.  Don’t kill your story.
  • Plan their exit before you even put them in.  Knowing where they end makes it easier not to let them get out of control.

I’m sure there are other ways, but these are some I’ve learned and am still learning to apply.  Remember, minor characters are really what the audience makes them, not you.  Give them something fluid to work with, they deserve to have as much fun creating their version of the character as you did.

Off you go!

~RJLouise



et cetera