To: Route 17 – A Poem

I wish you could know him
He’s everything you wanted

He dances with no music
And laughs at my jokes

And I would bring him home
Beneath the big Live Oak

There’s something so sick
About how I finally fit in

How you think you won
How you saved me from sin

“That’s not how this works”
I wish I could scream

But that’s not Southern charm
That’s not peaches and cream

So instead I battle with myself to be pristine
Debating what it means to be seen

Is it possible the land of my birth could change?
Can I assume anything stayed the same?

Imagining sandbars shimmering; seagull echoes
Restless feet in water with curious skates nibbling toes

I hunger for home and slowly die of starvation
But the wound is deeper than my severe deprivation

Yet, how grateful I am to have chosen family
Voices of the Richmond vortex’s gravity

Perhaps one day I will return
With so many stories we have yet to learn

The Bamboo Forest – A Poem

The Bamboo Forest

We walk through the side yard
Cut along the back fence ravine
Avoid the property line
Wherever my sister goes
I follow
She knows how to play the way I do
Unlike other kids
(I keep making mistakes)
We explore the dense poles
Green stalks transporting us
Foreign Land
My sister teaches me friendship
My sister teaches me
That someone understands
She shows me her treasures:
Newly discovered places
Secret grottos grown ups pass over
We are the wealthiest kingdom
I am a princess
But she is a Queen

Things In Writing I Pay Attention To That Other People Might Not Care About

If Haskell gets any closer Nyxie will show him the consequences

Yes A Does Really Have To Get To B Eventually

Cause And Effect

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Unresolved situations are frustrating.

Example: If a character experiences trauma, they will be traumatized and then display signs of trauma as a result of the event.

To not experience trauma in response to a traumatic event indicates something other. This could be used as a literary device. If it is not being used as a device it is distracting and takes away from the work. Make sure all actions have consequences.

Does The Characterization Of Each Character Match Up With The Timeline?

Characters are on a journey. Each character is moving from A to B and some will go on to C or D. Along those paths each character is changed. This creates the timeline of a book. How a character is portrayed in a scene needs to match the point in the timeline a character is at.

Example: A character that is in her twenties thinks about bills and her job as opposed to a character in her teens that is thinking about school. Because of this, the relationships formed around these areas are most important in life and are the most emotionally impactful outside of family and those that might as well be family.

We Didn’t Go Anywhere

When the setting of a story changes it’s important to have some form of transition to show movement of time and place.

There are some stories that don’t include enough details about objective indicators of passage of time and check that they are consistent such that all of the details of the story align temporally.

There are some stories that don’t include them at all and it’s somehow eternal summer somewhere bizarre like Alaska.

There are some stories that include way too much detail. It’s overwhelming and distracting from the story. I am suddenly studying the passage of time and the changing of the seasons instead of the nature of man.

There are some stories that include lots and lots of details. So many details. All the details. But none of them align temporally, so suddenly April was both 6 months ago and 2 months ago with Winter only 3 months away. This is when I start getting headaches. James Joyce does this. A lot.

Characters Have Hidden Lives

It’s Okay To Have “Offensive” Characters

There’s a huge difference between an “offensive” character that upsets readers and an overdone inaccurate stereotyped character that upsets readers because it doesn’t resonate.

The best offensive characters speak to the group they’re offending because they are too accurate and too real. This will be upsetting to some people. That’s the kind of “offensive” I relish. There may be those that demand a content warning. Good – research is showing that content warnings increase the reads a piece gets much like good tagging because people are seeking them out.

I don’t care who the author is – I promise if you have done your research and shaped your character in a way that reveals truths in your observations, I will love your character even if people get really upset with you over it. Cut the wound deep and hit where it hurts, not where it’s been done ad nauseum unless it’s real. Reveal something no one else has, but remember that pen names exist for your protection.

Your Characters Have Conversations The Reader Doesn’t Know About And Doesn’t See

An author cannot document everything. They are writing down a snapshot of a potential alternate universe that could exist because someone thought of it, right? That means all of those characters have private inner lives the reader can’t possibly know in its entirety. This means characters can have relationships with each other that are implied instead of explicitly stated. All of this helps to create depth.

It helps to come up with a full backstory for every character in a story even if it’s never talked about or mentioned. This will influence how dialogue is written and how hidden relationships between characters are revealed.

Your Characters Have Moods

Depending on your character’s internal state they will have a mood. This mood will translate into action or inaction in response to a stimulus and that will result in some consequence. Moods and energy levels related to exhaustion as an effect of the story timeline should all be cohesive.

Your Characters Of Different Cultures Are Going To Have Trouble Getting Along

Culture clash is real. The minority of people will be peaceful and fine and that’s great, but your characters aren’t the saints you think they are. Nope. They are averse to change and other cultures and view other as dangerous. This goes all ways. Be real – your characters from different cultures are going to be uneasy around each other and hesitant to make friends for legitimate reasons evolutionary wired in (if they’re humanoid).

Settings Are Places That Can Only Be Known Through Experience

Setting Descriptions Have A Time And Place With Characters In Them

It is not uncommon that I run into setting descriptions that are detached from the story either by the characters not interacting with the setting features or by the characters existing completely separate from setting descriptions.

By integrating setting details with the story as a whole the sensory experience can be the focus. The integrated sensory experience of the setting provides the reader with a greater sense of passage of time.

Settings Indicate Culture

Think about it – In the United States, if I set a story in the South a reader is going to anticipate a lot of passive aggressive saccharine manipulation straddled by y’alls happening. If I set a story in the Northeast, there’s a more WASPy social norm puppet show expectation.

But that’s based on the dominant culture of an area. What about when you’re writing about an area’s subculture?

I like to refer to framing subculture structures in writing as “country clubs” – it’s exclusive, you need to know someone to be someone, and there are generally specific central gathering places.

TL;DR

  • Make sure everything makes sense temporally
  • Ground the reader in temporal details outside the character
  • Offend by speaking the truth and make very effort to ensure that truth resonates in an effective and impactful way with the audience
  • Characters have conversations the reader won’t see but totally influence what the final dialogue will be.
  • Characters have inner lives, states, and energy levels that change as a result of the story. Write that.
  • Culture clash is real. Observe it and describe it. Be curious and nuanced. This gives a story so much depth.
  • Details of setting can be added to show passage of time in the story and immerse the characters and action in the location.
  • Settings indicate dominant culture and can somewhat indicate subcultures.

Thank you for reading! If you like this post on writing please like and let me know. What are things in books that drive you crazy?

Short Story: “Friday, I’m In Love”

Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash – two people leaning on each other.

Disclaimer: The following story is based on true events, but the names of people, places, dates, and other identifiers have been changed to ensure anonymity. The only name left unchanged is my own.

I stared at Bea’s lips as they moved, half-registering the words as they vibrated the air molecules between us. The kettle clicked off, and she turned to the teacup and licorice tea. Her soft pale skin and hazel eyes glowed beneath a halo of an artificial burgundy pixie cut. I’d never had a crush like this before.

“Here now, this will help.”

I smiled as Bea passed me the piping cup, my sleeves pulled up over my hands as I wrapped my palms around the vessel and felt the warmth through the porcelain. Sitting dazed on her dorm bed with my eyes fixed into the cup of tea, the back of her hand pressed gently against the side of my face and forehead.

“Have you been to the clinic?”

I tried to speak, but my voice, entirely shot, sputtered; no words came out. Defeated, I shook my head instead.

“You’re sick, Lo.” Her head tilted, and she let out a sigh, raising half of her mouth in a way that I found more beautiful than any other woman I’d met in my life before.

I looked up at her, unaware of my facial expression that resulted in her busting out laughing. It must have changed because she sat next to me on the bed, her own face changing in a way that I couldn’t quite understand. It lost energy – the expression fell into that chasm my brain can never quite figure out. Above us loomed a framed black and white image of The Cure – a gift from her absent mother. It had been a fun past time to look at the poster and try to guess if one was her dad based on her chin and height. Raised by her aunt and grandmother, she knew her mother had been a roadie and had gotten pregnant on their 1992 US tour.

“I’m leaving at the end of this semester.”

Pain blossomed in my chest as I forced myself to make eye contact and stare into the peaks and valleys of her hazel eyes. Bea contained an internal sun that could only be seen upon close examination of her irises. Around her pupils and radiating out were flecks of golds and greens that emerged from a stormy brown-grey sea. I memorized her eyes as I waited for her to continue. When she began to speak, I focused on the bridge of her nose to try and appear as though I maintained eye contact while my attention shifted to my ears.

“I need to go home to Lennoxburg. My grandmother is sick, and,” she paused, “I don’t know if college is for me anyway.” Turning her head away from me, she stared at her door and lowered her head. “I’m not smart enough for this. First person in my family to try – first person in my family to fail.”

Inside my head, I screamed at myself, DO SOMETHING. Instead, I sat there with Bea in silence as I sipped my licorice tea next to the most beautiful woman in the world. Attempting to will my body to do anything to tell her, a panic rumbled beneath the surface. What if she doesn’t like you back?

“You look so rough. Here – I’ll grab some of these tea bags and walk you back.”

Walking through the cold December air of that Friday evening, the world disappeared. At the front of the building, she insisted on walking me up to my room. Outside that door, she faced me and lifted both corners of her mouth and tilted her head. 

“Feel better, okay?” She hesitated, waiting. “I’m leaving Tuesday, so you probably won’t see me again.” And with that, she attempted to give me our first and last embrace before I retreated into the room, confused and hurt by it all.