When I’m writing a novel my train of thought needs to stay on track. If I loop around to edit I run out of steam. So I keep shoveling coal into the engine and words onto the page. Sometimes there’s nothing but rails all the way up the horizon. Sometimes curves in the mountains keep me from seeing where I’m going. Some routes are ideal while others are just serviceable.
The process forces me to wear many hats. I’m both the conductor and the stoker, tasked with staying on schedule and fueling the creative process. If I overthink the path the crankshaft screeches to a halt. So I keep chugging along until the first draft is done. No sense in letting writer’s block derail me.
When I write dialogue I get a sense of where the scene needs to go and let my cast say the first things that come to mind. I let their upbringings, attitudes, and professions dictate their speech patterns. For the characters I pick up along the way I try to find their voices while writing. I’m not too worried if I can’t on my first try because all writing is rewriting and I know I’ll be back this way again.
When writing your first draft author John Steinbeck recommends you “write freely and as rapidly as possible… Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.”
If you stop to edit the chapter you’re working on you’ll get stuck in a perfectionist loop, keeping you from moving forward and breaking your stream of consciousness. If your emphasis is on quality too early you’ll ensure there’s no quantity. The first draft is an marathon not a gymnastics routine. You can’t worrying about being too graceful on your way across the finish line.
Of course, when you do go back to edit, you may realize you’ve inherited a mess. I did when I went back to revise my current work in progress. My story features a narrator and the first person testimonies of four other characters. Continue reading How to See Through Someone Else’s Lens→
When you want extra anchovies on your pizza you ask the person on the other end of the phone. When you want a pair of acid wash pre-frayed jeans you ask a clerk where to find them. When you want a tall non-fat half caff Latte you ask a barista for one.
When you want love you don’t just ask the person you’re attracted to. There’s a dance to romance. You don’t say, “I couldn’t help but notice that your face was symmetrical and the proportions of your body are agreeable. I like how your loose garments reveal your good genetics. Would you like to copulate and imagine what our offspring would look like, or just copulate for recreation’s sake?”
My name is Drew Chial and I have a problem: I’m addicted to exposition. I talk too much and so does my writing. I need to learn to give people space to get a word in edgewise. I need to learn to do the same thing for my readers. I need to ask my friends more questions and give readers more room to fit their own imaginations in. I need to stop assuming my friends want to listen to me “tell it like it is” and stop thinking my readers won’t notice the information I show them.
When a highway patrol officer asks, “Do you know why I pulled you over,” they’re inviting you to incriminate yourself. This is not the case with the state trooper in this story, he has his own reasons, ones that turn out to be pretty insane.
Like my previous short Headbleed this excerpt is another peek at a dark work in progress. It stands on its own as a fun dialogue driven exchange.
Why I Pulled You Over
Cameron leaned out the window to feel the summer breeze against her skin. It smelt of wheatgrass and wildflowers. The air freshener had nothing on it. Giving up on a radio signal, she embraced the steady whooshing of the wind. There was something surreal about the view, the sheer flatness of the plain. With the clouds touching the horizon, it felt like she was driving into a painting.
Checking her reflection in the side mirror, Cameron watched her jet black ends flow from the bandana concealing her blond roots. The sun made the Beetle’s orange paint job glow. The additions she’d made to the bonnet flapped with each gust, more distractions than hazards.
Cameron shift her gaze to the rearview mirror. Nothing but prairie in both directions. Reaching into her purse, she dug out her phone, setting it on the horn.
The lock screen was filled with a rainbow coalition of alert icons: the Snapchat spook, the Reddit robot, and the Twitter turtle dove. With her hand up at two, Cameron unlocked the screen with her thumb. The mail icon’s notifications were in the triple digits, it would have to be priority number one.
She held down the home button until she heard a chime. Cameron said, “Read my last e-mail.”
The phone’s monotone modulation said, “On June 1st, Kat Carey sent you an email about A Guest Blog Opportunity.
I discovered your blog through a comment on a piece I wrote on eliminating exposition by modeling scenes after movies. Turns out you beat me to the punch by several months. You showed up early in the same dress, and by all accounts, wore it better. Jealous as I was, I’ve been lurking on your site ever since. My page reaches twenty-thousand readers a day, and your snark to wit ratio is exactly what I’m looking for.
I have an opening for Monday the thirtieth. I’d love for you to contribute.
Catching a billboard of an ultrasound out of the corner of her eye, Cameron chose to ignore its text, and the vehicle beneath it.
Pressing the home button until it chimed, Cameron said, “Reply to this email. Thank you for thinking of me, period. I’m covering an art car festival until the end of the month, period. We’ll see if I can get a moment to write something clever for you, comma, and a good enough signal to upload it, period. I’ll let you know by the end of the week, period. New Paragraph, Your consultant in crime, comma, Cameron Mandex. Send.”
Watching the grass sway along the highway, Cameron imagined herself floating above the road, with no wheels or engine, wishing this stretch of highway was her workspace. She saw herself coming back this way, far from the thumping speakers, the bickering couples, and the howling frat boys, she’d switch on cruise control and just let go. She’d finish her thesis out here.
The thought passed at the sight of the blue and red lights flashing in the rearview mirror.
Rolling down the window, Cameron held her license and registration at ten and two.
The highway patrol officer took his time ambling to the door. Through the mirror, Cameron watched him crack his neck from side to side, roll his shoulders, and stretch one arm across the other, a boxer preparing for a fight.
Standing in front of the sun, he snatched up her license. “Where’s the ball, Cinderella?”
Cameron squint, “I wasn’t speeding.”
The officer craned his head to take in the green stem atop the orange Volkswagen Beetle. “Can you think of another reason why I might have pulled you over?”
“Because you have a quota?” Cameron said flatly.
He rolled his eyes. “Try another?”
Biting her lip, Cameron sighed. “My tabs are current, my tires are full, my lights are in perfect working order.” She tilt her head back, “And even with the addition to my roof, the car is only eight feet tall, which is five less than the state maximum.”
“Can you think of any other reason?” The officer cocked his chin toward the raised teeth, framing the Jack-O-Lantern paint job beneath the windshield. “Maybe something obstructing your vision?”
Cameron glanced at the crooked smile just past her dashboard. She shrugged. “What do you want, an artist’s statement?”
Taking her piece in, the officer shook his head. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call this rig an ‘art car.’ With all this crap hanging off, it’s more of a mutant vehicle.”
Lowering his sunglasses, he peaked inside. “Christ, even the upholstery is orange? That’s dedication.”
He leaned over the window. “Are there any weapons in the… pumpkin, I should know about?”
Cameron looked to the long tube of pepper spray dangling from the ignition. “Nope.”
The officer rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder. The motion carried from one raised eyebrow to the other. “If I were to check the glove compartment, I wouldn’t find anything interesting?”
Cameron felt the sweat pooling beneath her bandana. She glared at the officer. “You mean, if you had a warrant to check it?”
Shaking his head, he waved the notion away. “I’ve got to run an inventory if you want to get your stuff back.”
Looking back and forth, Cameron processed this statement. “Get my stuff back? No no no, you’re not towing me.”
The officer threw his hands up. “This rig isn’t exactly street legal. Suppose the stem breaks off and hits another motorist.”
Cameron dug her nails into the wheel. “Suppose an eighteen wheeler pops a tire and the rim goes flying.”
The officer rapped his knuckles down the frame. “Suppose these papier-mâché teeth come unglued from the hood.”
Cameron snapped at him. “First of all, they’re silicone, not papier-mâché. Second, they’re caulked on, not glued, and third, this is a Beetle. That’s not the hood, it’s the trunk.”
The officer shook his head at the road. “I’m sorry, but semantics don’t make it safe. I’m going to have to ask you to step out of the vehicle.”
Cameron mouthed a vulgarity with no breath behind it. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she reached for her keys.
The officer smirked. “Leave the pepper spray, I’ll get it for you.”
Stepping out of her pumpkin carriage, Cameron took it in one last time. Raising her phone, she positioned her modest creation into the frame; months of planning reduced to a single snapshot. Who knows how much of it she’d get back.
She remembered how she justified the investment to her parents, “People don’t open up to bystanders like they do to participants.”
She could already hear her father’s reaction to this development. “This is fate redirecting you to a path with a future at the end.”
Pausing at the patrol car, she got an odd feeling. There was something off about the coloring. Something foreign about the font for “STATE TROOPER.” She pointed to the text beneath it. “You’re a little ways outside of your jurisdiction.”
Opening the back door, the officer tipped his hat, “We cover every street statewide.”
Cameron froze. “Is there a Humboldt County in this state?”
Putting his sunglasses on, the officer cocked his head. “Sounds like your speech is slurring. You sure you haven’t had anything to drink?”
Opening the driver’s side door, he fished a breathalyzer out of the compartment.
Cameron squint, “No, and you never asked me if–”
He cut her off, “Better breathalyze to be on the safe side.”
The officer shoved the device in Cameron’s mouth. It happened so fast she didn’t have time to consent. She had to tilt her head back just to avoid chipping her teeth.
The playful tone fell out of the officer’s voice. “I’m going to need you to take a deep breath, then I’m going to tell you to exhale.” He squeezed the breathalyzer, “Alright inhale.”
Cameron flared her nostrils. An oder came off the device: the head smelt sweet, the body stunk of alcohol, and the tail was pure antiseptic.
The officer looked beyond the breathalyzer, locking eyes with Cameron. His lips shrunk in. Somehow she knew, he was gritting his teeth beneath them.
He tilt the breathalyzer. The odor intensified into a taste, industrial soap spilling down Cameron’s tongue. It overpowered her senses, the sound of wind faded, the sun dimmed. She felt weightless.
Woozy, Cameron teetered away from the breathalyzer. Lowering it, the officer ignored the results. Stepping forward, he positioned himself to catch her. Throwing a punch, Cameron found she hadn’t the strength to sustain her fist through the motion. It felt like it broke off her wrist and flew away.
Falling into the officer’s arms, the world fell out from under her.
Someone is abducting college students, yet no one knows they’re even missing. That’s because they’re still posting status updates, Tweeting trending hashtags, and snapping selfies. Their friends and family don’t see the guns barrels just outside the frame.
Cameron wakes up in a town that’s all but abandoned, apart for the stables filled with captive residents. She needs to figure out what her fellow prisoners have in common, and what their abductors plan on doing with them, while she’s forced participate in their social media schemes.