I was supposed to write an essay for the MW blog for today, but something strange happened. I found myself thinking back on things others have said recently, and things I’ve said recently, and for some reason every time I sat down at my computer to write an essay (mainly Friday), this story insisted on spilling out of me. And the whole time I was writing, I was thinking about things that applied to it.
Pants writing, form and structure requiring more creativity, characters wanting something, ripples in a pond as a metaphor for revealing backstory gradually, writers block and the need to plow through it. It was all in there, swirling around and demanding to be not just discussed, but applied. It’s kind of like having kids; mine require me to actually eat the vegetables along with them, instead of just telling them to eat them while I munch on a hot dog. It makes me a better parent, so I don’t mind (too much). I think this exercise will have the same effect on me as a writer.
I’m not a ‘pantser’ as Stuart called it, but in more ways than usual, this story I started (and still have a long way to go until I complete), is the biggest piece of writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants that I’ve ever done. I had no starting point in mind, I had no final destination in mind; I just had a character who wanted to kill a werewolf, and a ton of backstory.
But at least he wanted something, this character I had created. I kept telling myself that as I wrote, since a few weeks ago I made myself the high priest of make-sure-your-character-wants-something.
Thank goodness the backstory was already in place. This is based on a concept I’ve been thinking about and planning to write a novel about for several years. So in some regards I was flying by the seat of my pants, and in some ways I was walking a road well-planned. I could not have written this if I hadn’t already had all that background material in place (in my mind).
But still, I had no idea who the main character was, who the villain was, or what they were in conflict over. In a lot of ways I still don’t, but the more I wrote, the more I gave shape to their respective natures and the nature of their conflict. That shape required greater and greater creativity to keep all the parts in harmony.
Also, the more I wrote, the more often I found myself in a place where I had no idea what was going to happen next. Frequently that would have been my cue to save the file on my computer and walk away to let it simmer in my mental crockpot for a day or twelve. But not this time. This time I pushed and cajoled and refused to accept anything that even smelled like writers block.
So there were a lot of things I didn’t have. What did I have (besides backstory)? Not much besides the narrator’s voice and the overwhelming urge to write. But that was enough. Having the voice already defined for the character is an immensely helpful first step.
So here’s what I’ve got so far. I’m not holding it up as an example of outstanding work, or anything you should aspire to (or actively avoid, either). It’s simply the fruit of applying as many of the things we’ve talked about in the past few weeks as possible, all at once. It’s about 1,000 words worth of opening, followed by about 250 words of ending. For the most part this is a first draft. I let the words spill out as quickly as possible, though I did go back and change a few details and polish the prose a little. (I do have some pride in what I put in front of an audience.) I’ll talk a little about the ending afterward.
* * *
By Edmund R. Schubert
All right, so…
This things is on, right? It’s recording?
I mean, a murder confession ain’t worth tiddlywinks if you don’t take it down proper-like. And for goodness sake, don’t misplace it in the evidence locker or nothing. Police brutality don’t worry me half as much as incompetence. Make sure you get this right, okay? It’s important.
Okay. So there I was, trying to make my bones with my first kill, and having very little success – fine, fine, none whatsoever – for the better part of eight months, when finally I find a werewolf.
What, you thought ‘making my bones’ was a Mafia term? Ha! Right country; wrong “family.” The Mafia borrowed that expression from us over a hundred years ago. There just ain’t nobody making movies about the Remny, is all. Never have, never will. Stupid mob don’t even know where the term comes from or what it really means; they just thought it sounded cool.
And the werewolf? The problem with this werewolf was I couldn’t touch her. I mean, literally couldn’t touch her.
It’s hard enough tracking werewolves, much less killing them. I had the double misfortune of finding one during the new moon, when I was completely intangible.
Why do I say double?
Well, for starters, finding her when she was in human form should have made killing her as easy as ice cream. But if I’m intangible, I can’t touch her, can I? That’s obvious. How am I supposed to kill someone I can’t touch? But to top it off, no sooner do I find her, when she leaves the subway station. I mean, at least underground I got minimal worries about being noticed. But no, she takes to the streets. New York City is an easy place to get lost if you’re relatively human, but even in the city that never sleeps, where almost anything goes, people will notice if you walk through taxi cabs and skyscrapers and stuff. Trust me on this; I’ve proved it the hard way.
The Remny big-wigs – excuse me, tribal elders – will give you all sorts of grief if you get spotted when you’re in “the phase of grace.” Showing up all ghost-like in the tabloid sheets gets you five days in a holding cell with no food. Once you’re tangible again, of course.
Time in a cell don’t mean squat. But imagine what it’s like being denied food for five days, when you’ve already spent three or four days without so much as being able to pick a fork. Fun stuff, eh?
And let me tell you, you don’t even want to know what they’ll do to you if you show up on channel four during the evening news, falling twenty stories out of the Chrysler Building and then walking away. You really don’t.
So Lydia – no idea about her last name – she comes up out of the #7 subway at the corner of 5th and 42nd and starts walking down 42nd street in the direction of Times Square. My first werewolf in forever, and I can’t touch her.
Heh. Like hell I can’t.
I found her, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose her.
That’s funny, damned, considering that most Remny consider themselves damned pretty much all the time anyway. Intangible during the new moon; hard as a rock when the moon is full. Makes for a fair fight when you’re up against a werewolf and they’re all hairy and pointy-clawed and supernaturally strong, don’t get me wrong. But all that other stuff? It ain’t as glamorous as it sounds.
Not like we had a choice in this deal, you know what I’m saying? Born into it and all that. But still, other things being equal, I’d just as soon be a regular schmuck and skip some of this other stuff.
Okay then, so Lydia strolls up out of the subway stairwell and into daylight, weaving in and out of the river of oblivious human traffic that’s flowing down the sidewalk. She’s moving with purpose, which means no dilly-dallying, all business. She’s got someplace definite to be –which makes me doubly suspicious. Even in their human form, werewolves know they’re werewolves. They don’t stop planning nasty business just because their hair is combed nice and neat. Whether it’s styled or sticking out in forty-five different directions, they’re never up to any good.
Now, if she would stop every now and again, I’d have a minute to look for places to hide as I try to follow her. But like I say, she’s moving with purpose; there’s no time to duck down into one of those big blue mailboxes or any cutesy crap like that. So I take the direct route, grateful that there’s a long line of delivery trucks parked on the westbound side of the street. So right down the middle of each truck I go, peeking after her flaming red hair every time I pop out between trucks, thanking the goddess Diana every time I spot it that this werewolf-woman has such a lousy dye-job.
And then I don’t. Spot it, I mean. I come out of the engine of a FedEx truck, one of the little green and white and purple ones with the flat noses, and she’s just gone, flaming hair and all.
I check back at the couple of store-fronts I’ve passed since I last saw her – a bodega with signs plastered all over the windows, one of them Korean hair and nail joints, and a shoe repair place – and notice her standing behind the counter of the shoe place. Waving at me.
Double crap. If she’s waving at me, she knows exactly who I am and what I want with her.
Then the waving turns into a summoning, beckoning kind of gesture.
Come here, she mouths in a slow, exaggerated way from the other side of the store’s streaky plate-glass window. I need to talk to you.
Talk to me? You gotta be freaking kidding me. A werewolf and a Remny having a chat. That’s funny.
That’s when it hits me. Why the heck not? I can’t touch her, but she can’t touch me neither. This could be interesting, you know, in a get-locked-up-for-a-week-with-no-food kind of way…
# # #
Yeah, I know. Bit much, even for a murder confession, ain’t it?
So why am I explaining all of this to you?
Well, I know you’re not believing a word of it. I wouldn’t either if I were in your shoes. But here’s the thing. In six days we’ll be having a new moon again, and at that point I’ll walk right through that wall there and disappear. And I mean disappear for good. I’m going to get as far from this Big Rotten Apple as I can. Away from Remny and werewolves and everybody.
So, yeah, go ahead and laugh. Laugh all you want. But see if I’m still here in a week. See if I’m ever spotted anywhere in this city again, tangible or otherwise.
And when I’m gone, one of you is going to remember this interview, this confession.
Well, you’re all going to remember it, but one of you is going to go to the tabloids with it. I know the boys in blue need to supplement their income now and again, and since some of you are actually above taking bribes, you take crazy stories to the rags instead. That’s fine, I don’t blame you. Better that than being on the take with some gang, or worse yet, with some Donald Trump wanna-be who think it’s okay to push little old ladies out in the street and turn their apartments into ten-story shopping malls.
And when the tabloid prints my story, then my people will know, too. They’ll know what I did for them, and why. Maybe some of them will even forgive me.
I‘m not counting on it. But maybe one or two of them will.
If I’m lucky, maybe Sophia will be one of them.
* * *
So there it is, a beginning and an ending. I have absolutely no idea what happens in the middle, though I’m looking forward to finding out.
About the ending: I read a long time ago that it’s a good idea to write your ending first, so you know where you’re going. I don’t usually follow that advice, but I will say that the few times I have, it has lead me in interesting directions that were very useful, even if the first ending isn’t the one I ended up using.
In this case, I knew I had to loop back around to the opening and justify not just that this was a ‘told’ story, but why the character would choose to tell it. Under the circumstance/guidelines I laid out in the beginning – the character being a member of such a secretive culture – there had to be a really good reason why he would tell all this to anyone. That required a bit of creative thinking, but I’m happy with what I came up with.
Of course, this ending will now require additional creativity, because truth be told, I have no idea who it was that this character killed, why the villain/werewolf made him do it, or who the heck Sophia is.
But I feel like I’ve given things a good (strict?) framework, as T.S. Eliot suggested. I know where I’ve started, and I know where I want to end up. That may not be much, but it’s enough to keep me from sprawling.
And I may completely rewrite this ending before all is said and done – I may write something in the middle that absolutely requires it – but if nothing else, it’s going to be interesting finding out. And rest assured I’ll be thinking about what said here on MW as I do so.