Mannequin Monday – Easy for Some
What’s the street credibility of writers who offer advice on the craft of writing? This week published authors guide us in finding the words to drape our bare mannequin. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Elizabeth George, Natalie Goldberg.
And I offer a chapter, a character study, from a novel I’m working on.
What I’m Reading
As I bounce between a couple of books this week, I can’t stop thinking about how fiction authors extend a hand to inspire other writers.
I’m thinking in particular about the street cred of fiction authors who write about the craft of writing.
Three prolific writers come to mind, writers who also wrote a book on the craft of writing:
- Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
- Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing.
- Elizabeth George, Write Away.
Each of these three authors have dozens of novels and stories worth of credibility. You know King and Bradbury, I’m sure. George has written 20 detective novels set in Britain and three YA books set in the Pacific Northwest.
These three how-to books have inspired me over the years. I especially find Elizabeth George’s advice on character development informative. She advocates creating character profiles so that authors understand, believe in, each of their characters. In recent years I have written extensive profiles for the characters in my books and stories. At current count I have perhaps 50 characters, major and minor. Each has a profile, no matter how small. The cumulative profiles total 68,000 words and 127 pages in Word. Enough for a short novel! I continually add to the profiles as bits of dialogue, description, backstory occur to me. I know several authors who will develop character profiles until the urge to write the story overpowers them.
It’s interesting to note that there are other writers who focus on the practice of writing, while not having written many published fiction works. Natalie Goldberg comes to mind. Goldberg is best known for Writing Down the Bones. Her writing books are inspirations for many, and rightly so. She has written five books on writing, three memoirs, several books on poetry and painting…yet only one published novel.
Goldberg’s credibility comes from the effectiveness of her writing advice. I find Goldberg’s books helpful when I need to unleash my imagination, let the creative juices flow. One piece of her advice I follow religiously. When describing something, make it specific. Example: the house on the corner vs. the house on the corner, dead grass surrounding it, blue paint peeling on the sides, one white shutter hanging askew. You get the point. Paint a visually sharp image of an object. Leave some details to the reader’s imagination, but help the reader experience the object on the page.
What I’m Writing
Here’s an excerpt from a character study I did for a possible new novel. Brill Cardiff is a high school English teacher. Her husband left her abruptly just as they were talking about starting a family. His action left her devastated. And then this happened…
Easy for Some
Brill Cardiff gathered up her notes as the students filed out of her classroom. She glanced around the room. Too early to put up Halloween decorations. Next week would be soon enough. One girl waited for the rest of the class to leave, then approached the desk.
“Ms. Cardiff, can I talk to you?”
“Yes,” Brill said. “But I’ve only got a few minutes before I have to leave.”
The girl stood silently.
“What’s up, Kristin?”
The girl looked at Brill as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Oh wow… are you sure?” Brill put her papers down.
Kristin nodded. “I just missed my second period.”
“Whom else have you talked to?”
“No one.” Kristin looked around to be sure no one else was in hearing distance.
“Your parents don’t know?”
Brill’s mind flashed on her husband’s last note. I can’t do this. She shuddered.
“And when are you planning to tell them?”
Kristin shook her head. “I’m scared.” More tears ran down her face.
“Do you have a plan?” Brill asked.
Kristin’s eyes widened. “A plan?”
“What do you want to do about the pregnancy?”
She shifted her backpack from one shoulder to the other. “I don’t know.”
Brill paused. “Does the father know?”
Kristin shook her head. “No, he’s in college back east.”
“Do you plan on telling him?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think he’ll care?”
“Oh yes, I think so. He’s a really good guy.”
Brill’s eyes drilled into Kristin’s. “He is?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“Kristin, what you did just added ten years to your life.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you are now faced with a situation, and decisions, that an older woman might have to face.”
Brill continued. “Did you and this boy use protection?”
“No… he said you can’t get pregnant the first time.”
Brill sat down at her desk. “And you believed him?”
“I didn’t think about it much.”
You’re an idiot!
“You’re an idiot!”
Kristin stepped back. “What?”
“I said, you’re an idiot. You are seventeen years old. In your senior year of high school. One of the best years of your life. And you threw it away.”
Kristin turned away.
“Where are you going?” Brill stood again.
“You obviously don’t care what I’m going through.”
“I don’t care?” She held out her palms in a questioning gesture.
“Listen, by sleeping with this boy, without protection, you tossed away everything you know, everything you believe in, everything you worked for so far.”
Brill extended her index finger. “Be quiet and listen to me. You have three choices, right?”
Kristin shrugged off her backpack and dropped it to the floor. She stared at Brill.
“You can have the baby and keep it, you can have the baby and give it up for adoption, or you can terminate the pregnancy.”
“I don’t want an abortion.”
“Okay. I’m happy to hear that. But what are you going to do?”
“You’re going home tonight and tell your parents. That’s step one. Then the three of you are going to make an appointment with school administration.”
“Yeah, I know… but you should have thought of that instead of your boyfriend’s lies.”
“He didn’t lie…”
“Of course he did. Who really thinks you can’t get pregnant the first time?”
She shrugged. “But he was going away to college. We wanted to do this.”
“Well, congratulations. You now have to deal with a baby, and he keeps on spreading his joy back east at college.”
“Kristin, please. I will help you in any way I can, but I will speak the truth. You acted like an idiot. You’re far smarter than this.”
Kristin wiped away her tears. “Will you come with me when we talk to administration?”
“If you want me there, I’ll go.”
Kristin stared out the window for a moment.
“What were your plans for college?” Brill asked.
“I’m trying for a volleyball scholarship.”
“You were trying…”
“Yeah, Kristin. The only way you’ll play volleyball this season will be if you terminate the pregnancy.”
A look of resignation washed over Kristin’s face.
“Right… no scholarship.”
“And I doubt administration will allow you to come to school while you’re pregnant.”
“I can keep up from home.”
“With help, yes. You’ll need to take your AP exams, do your college applications.”
Brill thought for a moment. “Your due date will be May, right?”
“I think so.”
“Do you want to walk with your class at graduation?”
A tentative smile. “Yes.”
“Be sure you talk to administration about that. Don’t assume it will happen.”
Kristin picked up her backpack, slung it over her shoulder, and left the room.
Brill stared after her. It’s so easy when it’s the wrong time.
Comments are welcome. Was Brill too harsh?
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