Okay, so i went to a retreat recently for persons living with HIV and I intend to blog about it, but in the meantime this is a sort of how I write post revolving around a little exercise I did there that hopefully will end up being a completed short story at some point in the near future. it’s fairly complete in my head, but there are so many other stories going on in there at any given point in time that I’m not sure when exactly near future will be.
During one of the workshops I attended, we each took a different writing prompt from a pile and saw what we could do with it in a short time-frame: the goal of reading it at the talent show that night what we had written earlier that day (which we all did). My time got shorter as I went on a hike. I almost stayed at the inn and kept working on the story, but I wanted to do as many retreat things as possible… time always requires a trade off.
My prompt was Never in a million years did…
I dropped the “did” and started writing in long hand, but soon switched to my easier to read typing. I wrote the dialogue first, as that is always what I hear the most clearly and gives me the best sense of my characters. I’m lousy with setting, physical description, and other grounding items. I have to work hard on adding such things during revisions.
I usually “see” the story via the back and forth conversations of the characters in my head, then build the full text story around that framework. I feel characters — that is, sense what they are feeling when they speak — more than have an external visual of them as I write. I sometimes will have some specifics in mind with regards to how the character (or setting or house or city or whatever) looks, etc, but the emotional context is always the primary starting point and is what drives the story for me.
During revision, as I work on completing this as yet unfinished story, I will change decapitating as a member of the audience kindly pointed out afterwards that the word doesn’t go with fingers; an embarrassing oops…
I also will have to research the two movies mentioned as in my initial conception of the entire story, which at first only included mentioning One Million Years, I was mixing their plots up.
That said, I thought I would go ahead and post unaltered what I read at the talent show, flaws and all, some already mentioned and others to come out during revising:
“Never in a million years,” Marcus said.
“Why not?” Donnie asked, right hand hanging over the top of his best friend’s open locker. It’s color, blue, marked his grade, as did Donnie’s, also blue, as if the lockers already being in the least cool wing of Plankton high didn’t scream their ninth grade status loud enough.
The gym, cafeteria, and parking lot full of cars of kids old enough to drive lay a social grand canyon away at the other end of the school. Cars like the black 1986 Firebird driven by the boy front and center of their current back and forth.
“Well, for one thing, he’s a senior.” Marcus said, pulling out his English Composition book. “He’s not going to be interested in going out with some stupid little freshman.”
“I’m not stupid. And I’m not little”
“Oh, gee whiz, don’t be such a geek. You always take things so literally. I didn’t mean you specifically, I just meant freshmen in general… though, hmm, come to think of it, you are more towards the puny side. One thrust and he’d probably split you in two.”
“Haha, you’re so funny you’re not. And besides it’s not like I’d be asking him to sleep with me…”
Marcus snorted and glanced at Donnie.
“At least not till a second date, eh?”
“I’m serious, Marc.”
Marcus clicked his tongue and slammed his locker, nearly decapitating Donnie’s fingers.
“I am, too. Hello, Earth to Donnie. Think who the hell you’re talking about. He’s not just any senior, he’s Jacob Alexander Rivington III, for Christ’s sake.”
“So? I’m Donald Alan Johnson the first.”
“You can’t just call yourself ‘the first.’ That doesn’t even make any sense.”
“Sure I can and sure it does.”
“Whatever,” Marcus said, invoking their usual one-word conversation ender and starting to walk towards class. But Donnie wasn’t finished and continued as he fell instep beside Marcus.
“It’s not like I have bad breath or cooties or anything. I’m intelligent, halfway-attractive, witty, and—“
“and still way, way out of his league. We both are. Not just other side of the tracks, but a whole other railroad. Get over it. Over him.”
They took their seats.
“It could happen. Be like a John Hughes movie. Like Pretty in Pink.”
“Molly Ringwald with a dick? Now there’s a vivid image.”
“Well it could, and you know what I mean,” Donnie said, studying the chewed-up pencil in his hand, running a finger along the myriad indentations; a pencil that had fallen out of Jacob’s backpack earlier that day during a rare juxtaposition of their respective lunch paths. “I just need to find the right approach to give this back to him.”
Marcus glanced over at him.
“Oh, yeah, nothing says go out with me like here, I found your spit-covered, gnawed-on piece of wood.”
“I wouldn’t say it like that.”
“How would you say it then? It’s just a stupid pencil. I don’t think a boy whose family lives in Chester Heights and who drives a frigging firebird to school gives a damn about losing something like that.”
The bell for class rang.
Donnie frowned, Marcus’s words causing reality to infringe on fantasy; he now envisioned approaching Jacob and Jacob laughing at him. Or worse, Jacob not laughing at all; just taking the pencil with a socially polite Thank You while giving him a pitying look, or maybe even scrunching up his face in way that said What a weirdo.
“You’re probably right,” Donnie said, shoving the pencil into his pocket and trying to forget about it.
But he couldn’t forget about it.
Or about Jacob.
That night at home he gave up on trying to concentrate on Math, History, or any of the other utterly unimportant to him at the moment things he was supposed to be thinking about. He didn’t tell his parents this, of course, but said he was going to study in his room.
Door closed and TV volume low, he tried to distract himself with video games, MTV and much later with Channel 4 up all night. The latter proved the most successful with a prehistoric double feature, a movie with Raquel Welch called One Million Years BC and another one, a comedy, starring Ringo Star as a caveman.