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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Short Story: Sorry Officer; I'm In Love

My next novel will include at least one powerful love story. So I wrote this mostly to test my abilities to reproduce strong feelings of love from a male perspective. So, to anyone reading these words, I would appreciate if you comment, letting me know if you think it works, and what you think of it. Thanks.

Sorry Officer; Im In Love

I finished homework at my favorite nook in the school's main library and walked toward the steps to head home, taking my time, browsing at books on the shelves as I went. But the fourth floor I was on had a balcony overlooking the library's entrance lobby, where I spotted Rachel checking out books. From the moment I saw her I sprinted toward the steps. Once there, I ran down them three at a time, as fast as I could possibly go.

I had to catch her before she left the library. I couldn't lose her. It was already six weeks into the semester, and I had been dreaming every day what I would say to her if I saw her. On the last day of classes the previous spring, she had dumped me.

"I don't think we should see each other any more; with summer and all," she had said.

"I, I don't understand. I'll be less than an hour away."

"I know, and I know you don't want me to say you're a nice guy, Shawn, but you are. I like you. You know that. It's just that, well, I have a life at home. And an hour apart, that's still a long-distance relationship. It just won't work. Please be understanding. Don't make this any more painful than it is."

"And we both know I'm not the type to make things painful," I said.

"Of course you're not. Thank you. Don't be bitter." And she gave me a kiss on the cheek and went running off. That was the last time I saw her until now.

Many times over the summer I considered calling her, but I never did. I tried to keep my pride. And in my head I often thought of what I'd do if I saw her on campus. In one scenario, I would very pointedly ignore her. In another, I would speak to her but be cold and distant.

But now, as I watched her pick up the books she had checked out and move toward the door, my only thoughts were that I didn't want her to see me breathing hard. I smoothed out my hair with my fingers. I made sure my shirt was properly tucked into my pants. I tried to breath normally. And I walked over to her.

"Rachel," was all I could say.

She turned to face me, with a smile. "Oh, hi Shawn. I didn't notice you. How are you? How have you been?"

I had a feeling of deja vu. She was exactly as I remembered, but even more special: the joy in her eyes, the way she tilted her head, the upward curve of her lips, and, most enchanting, her voice. She had personality in each word, every sentence with a unique inflection. She was more adorable than the most angelic four-year-old, with the wisdom of a brilliant college girl. But there were no other college girls like her; the kindness that came through in everything she said; the shine and bounce in her short black hair, the graceful way she stood, the perfection of her slim, white hands; it all was unique and it made her far, far more attractive than any other woman I had ever seen. I thought that all guys must find her as alluring as I did. I wondered how girls saw her. Most women liked Audrey Hepburn, but what Audrey Hepburn had, Rachel had a thousand times better. No other girl was as appealing, from top to bottom, as she was. No one else possibly could be. My insides were flittering, as if I were filled with butterflies.

She wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, but the first thing friends who met her said to me about her was that she was pretty. We had met through a computer dating system that the entire campus had participated in. I had been given a list of fifteen names and phone numbers and Rachel's name had been number one. Among twenty-nine thousand students, she was the one girl that best matched the responses I had put into the computer. I had spoken with her on the phone but hadn't seen her before. We had arranged to meet outside Talliaferro Hall, where she would be leaving a class. Other girls came out before she did. With each one, I thought to myself, "Ooh, I hope it's not that girl; I think she's ugly," or "that girl's pretty but dresses as if she's from the Flintstones." But when she came out, the words in my head were, "I hope it's her; she's very cute." She was slightly above average in height, with a round face and a perfect nose, and nice, kind-looking eyes; a good looking girl, far better than average. And she was dressed in a nice, blue and green sweater and designer jeans. I was glad when she came over to me, my computer date.

We sat together talking on a bench outside Talliaferro for what seemed like minutes but was really hours. The computer was right: we enjoyed the same movies, we had similar tastes in food; we laughed at the same jokes, and we both loved kids and dogs. We were perfect for each other. From that warm late-fall day until the last day of classes in the spring, I dreamed of her every night but couldn't wait to get up and be with her during the day. It was the happiest time of my life.

Now, in the library, I responded to her question with, "I've been Okay. I was looking forward to us running into each other. I thought it would be long before this." I hoped I didn't sound too eager.

"Well, here I am."

She said it with enthusiasm. It gave me hope.

We chatted just outside the library for about ten minutes. I asked about her summer and she told me how her parents treated her to Lasik surgery for her birthday.

I joked, "So no more fishing your contacts out of the drain."

"No, I guess not. You were brilliant figuring out how to do that. I was so grateful."

"I remember how grateful. That turned out to be a wonderful day."

"It did," she said, with a shy smile. Her cheeks reddened. At the thrill of seeing her blush, the butterflies inside of me stopped beating for a moment, and then started again more fluttery than ever.

And we talked about movies we'd seen over the summer. She said, "But of course it wasn't as much fun as seeing the Gene Wilder - Richard Pryor film in a black neighborhood. That was amazing how we laughed at one set of jokes and they laughed at another. That was a great date."

"Yeah, that was fun."

Our few minutes by the library was just as wonderful as our conversations from the previous spring. Just seeing her and being with her made me feel as if I were floating on cotton candy.

But then she said, "Oh no. I forgot the time. I'm going to be late for my class."

She hesitated for just a second, enough time for me to ask, "Can we see each other again?"

"I'd like that."

In the midst of pure elation, it occurred to me that it was Thursday and I had a date with Liz-Anne on Friday night. I would split up with her then, something I'd been considering for several weeks.

I said, "How about Saturday night. I'll make sure it's something special."

As she walked off, she said, "Sounds great. Call me tonight and tell me about it. Same phone number as last year. Thanks."

"I'll call you. It's great seeing you again."

"Bye." It was the world's most adorable Bye. She started jogging to her class, and I enjoyed watching her; she was very sexy.

I found myself on the Beltway driving. I had no idea how I had gotten there. All my thoughts were on Rachel, replaying every second of our meeting at the library. I decided I would get up very early the next day and stand in line at the Kennedy Center for special reserved student tickets. They had a play going to Broadway that was based on a comic strip. It would be magical. Every second being with Rachel was magical. And I would be with her again. I started to cry, thinking what a joy it would be talk to her on the phone that night, to see her, and to touch her on Saturday. I began to sob. I could no longer drive. I pulled over to the side of the Beltway and just let myself sob with pure joy.

But then I thought what I would do if a policeman stopped and knocked on my car window. I would say, "Sorry, Officer, I'm in love."

Novel-Writing Methodology: Chapter Checklist

Long before I started writing my novel, I created an outline of chapters, with a synopsis of each chapter. That was the first version of this spreadsheet. As I wrote the novel, I modified the spreadsheet to match the actual novel. Occasionally, I added fields for issues I wanted to make sure not to forget. Those fields became my checklist for each chapter. So for the second draft of the novel, I read each chapter and compared it to my checklist. So, here is the checklist. (Of course, in the real version I used, I had a lot of text written in each blank square, and the checklist was very large, much too big for a blog.)

Title...... ... ... ...
Synopsis... ... ... ... ...
What makes the chapter?... ... ... ... ...
Purposes... ... ... ... ...
Poignant... ... ... ... ...
Relevant... ... ... ... ...
(actions & characters?)
... ... ... ... ...
Pageturner?... ... ... ... ...
(strong, consistent?)
... ... ... ... ...
Faults... ... ... ... ...
Humor... ... ... ... ...
(Readers feel there?)
... ... ... ... ...
(appropriate to character, season?)
... ... ... ... ...
(smell, color, etc.)
... ... ... ... ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Novel-Writing Methodology

This was written to help keep myself on track to write the best novel possible. I decided that the most important thing I could do was constantly work at holding the reader's interest. As I wrote the novel, I created a spreadsheet, which I am now using as a check-off list to make sure I am covering all the points listed below and more for every chapter. I will post a version of my spreadsheet sometime soon. I am working on the novel's second draft. I will submit it for publication after I finish my third draft.

The reader has to desire something. What? Perhaps all of the following. Every sentence of the book has to be presenting the reader with at least one of these things and probably several. I also need to keep in mind how it advances the plot.
1. Questions
The book must have unanswered questions that the reader is very anxious to have an answer for. That is what makes a "whodunit" fun to read.
2. Goals
Do primary characters have defined goals? Reader must share characters' passion for reaching the goal, which must be attainable. Climax of each character's story line is reaching the goal.
3. Excitement
Will character whom reader cares about die in next paragraph? Will character's dreams be dashed in next paragraph? Will plans currently running carry to fruition? Will plans character doesn't know about, but reader does, hit character in the head?
4. Urgency
Is reader asking, "Why doesn't X happen now?" The reader must feel that unless X happens now, something bad will happen.
5. Passion
Is character whom reader cares about passionate about something or things? Does reader identify with those passion(s)? Are passions being fulfilled?
6. Romance
Readers want to feel "in-love." There are thousands of things, usually a person is unaware of, that makes up romance. Does the reader have the "feeling?"
7. Poignancy
Do events pull at heartstrings?
8. Humor
Does the general tenor of the writing keep a smile on the reader's face? Are events humorous? Are at least some characters funny.
9. Cleverness
Do readers think, "Hey that's neat, a clever idea?"
Is environment awe inspiring, or giving sense of wonder? Sitting on a Saturn V at takeoff.
Are there little lost puppies, either real or as part of characters?
Is the world less mundane than the reader's world, and yet complete, with enough details to make the reader want to escape to it?
Are readers learning things they didn't know?
Does the world feel solid. It should be a setting that the reader sees in his mind as being a real world, as well as being an enjoyable world to be in. The reader should feel as if he is walking on the grass, eating the foods, etc.
15.HumanDepth: are true human emotions, or complex personalities being explored?
Does reader feel author is trying to say something important (without being preachy)? Are major issues being examined.

To achieve most of the above, the readers have to have characters they care about, either loving them or hating them. To do so, characters first and foremost need at least one distinguishing character trait (and maybe a maximum of three).

Beyond that, they also need the following:
1. LikabilityCharacters cannot be bland: people readers don't care about. Readers have to find them attractive. A character's attractive because it is accomplishing reader's dreams, it is overcoming handicaps, it is funny, it thinks in a lively way, it deals well with a situation readers wonder about, it is nice to children and puppies, it is smarter than the average bear, it comes from an odd background or is doing odd work or hobbies. What are the character's interests?
2. IdentityCan readers tell who each character is by its speech, mannerisms, humor, intensity, intelligence, vanity, humility, kindness, sternness, morals, passions, the way others look at it, leadership, sensitivity, childishness, way of thinking, etc.
3. CharacterForceful, serving, exacting, or entertaining? Loud or quiet? Colorful or dull? Thinker or doer? Quick or slow? Smart or dumb? Physical or mental? Nice or mean? Happy or depressed? Masochist or Sadist? Oblivious or observant? Manipulator or manipulated? Likes kids and dogs? Nice to retarded? Nice to beggers? Curiosity priority.
4. BelievabilityAre characters people you might meet in the street?
5. AppearanceWhat's the character look like, sound like, smell like, and feel like (baby skin or lizard skin?) Posture.
6. FamilySpouse, kids, mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, pets, etc.
7. Clothes /
How character dresses? What car? What type of house? Favorite toys.
8. ResumeWhat jobs? When? What skills? How long per job? Reasons for leaving? Mentors? Favorite jobs / bosses and why?
9. Hobbies /
Games character likes to play. Sports teams. Favorite music. Favorite colors. Breakfast cereal. Foods character can't stand. Food character loves. Favorite books. Favorite TV shows.
10.ReligionWhich one? How does the character feel about it? Prejudices against others? What rituals are participated in? Desire for religion in children?
11.BackgroundDoes reader feel he knows the character? What was the character doing on his 12th birthday? What scars does the character have and how did they happen? What recurring pains? What medications taken? How many pairs of shoes are in the closet? Is the closet neat or messy? Is the character punctual or always late? Does character listen to talk radio? What political parties? Has the character ever called a Congressman? In elementary school, was character a bully? get picked on? or defend kids from bullies? What animal identified with? How spouse was met? Other old and new relationships? How did the character start dating in school. Did the character enjoy junior high and high school? What racist or other types of persecution did the character experience, either against the character or in the character's presense and what was the character's reaction. When was the character born and what season does the character like best. Which parent the character's spouse's personality most resembles? Level of testosterone, PMS, feminine sensitivity, feminine intuition? Morning or evening person?

A plot essentially is the question, "What happens?" Plots have to deal with something, usually striving for or against something. Typical plots involve "man vs. man," "man vs. self," or "man vs. nature." Examples, respectively, are "Batman vs. Joker," "To be or not to be," or "Locked in a room with a ticking bomb."

Three to seven subplots are necessary (more might be confusing, unless done extremely well), each of which should have the following:
1. BeginningSomething must happen to make clear to readers (not necessarily characters) what the goal is. The reader must have an idea on what achieving the goal means. The goal may be to survive till tomorrow, it may be to get the girl, to decide not to kill yourself, etc.
2. MiddleReader must feel that progress is being made at achieving the goal. There should probably be subgoals. There should be new obstacles. But some obstacles should be in the reader's mind at the beginning and the solving of them is the middle for the plot.
3. ClimaxThe point at which the most major goal or goals are achieved is the climax.
4. EndWhen all loose ends have been neatly tied up.

A book is considered merely escape unless it has some theme. Whether the author is trying to get a message across or just explore some heavy concepts (to be, killing your king, or not to be), all throughout the novel must be an intellectual idea, with every word of the novel leading to that idea.

The language should not get in the way, but should be beautiful for those who look for it. Original, but unobtrusive, similes and metaphors are important. Language should be visual, but simple; e.g., Hemingway's "The horse smelled water." Keep sentences short, active voice, with powerful verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. And yet sentences should not be too short or boring in style. Style can also lend humor or lighten the tone of the novel. If the language or images are heavy, the novel is heavier.