Friday, August 17, 2012

...the unedited truth...: An Explanation

This week I posted another piece of short fiction from my personal collection, titled ...the unedited truth.... I've mentioned in previous explanations that I have a wide variety of half-finished short stories and concept outlines, and this story is one of those. Five years in the making, actually. Usually, when I conceive a character description or general plotline, the rest of the story falls into place and I find myself imagining the momentum of the story right through to the end. I think this habit of mine may actually cause me to refrain from finishing some of my stories. Since I already personally know where the narrator's journey is going, since it's already so clear in my head, it almost seems redundant to sit there and write it out. But that's where audience comes in. Sure, I primarily write stories with myself as my targeted audience, but as self-professed Writer, it's also my responsibility to share my words with whoever cares to read them.

Five years ago, I was working at Starbucks Coffee Company (this whole experience is for another blog post, one that I'll likely never write). Back in those days, I was in the usual shift-work grind and daydreaming about story ideas was a major help in getting me to the end of my shift, so I'd usually keep my inspiration window wide open. On one particular day, an image came to me from the abyss of creativity deep in my mind. I saw two brothers, one a young adult, the other a small child. They're walking down a long farmland road in the middle of nowhere, and the boy is nursing an ice cream cone that is quickly melting everywhere in the heat. As always, I began to ask questions about this image. Almost immeditately I knew that the older brother had found himself in some deep trouble, and although the younger one believed he was just having a nice day, the older brother would know that they wouldn't be making it home. I loved the idea of using the ice cream cone as a ticking-clock, as soon as it was devoured, the story would come to an end.

So I took a fifteen minute break, grabbed a pad of paper and a pen, and started writing. The first line that came to me is still the first line of the story: Winter isn't coming this year. The line about locking the door was added later, once I realized exactly the kind of trouble the older brother was in. The part that comes next in the intro, about the mother passing down cautionary tales, is actually inspired by stories my own mother used to tell me as a child. In the fifteen minutes that I wrote, I had myself an opening paragraph and a rough outline for the story. I found myself fascinated with the theme of the innocence of childhood vs. the cruel reality of adulthood. The running theme throughout the tragic tale is that you can never really tell a child the truth, not in any way that they can appreciate or understand.

After the day that I began to write the story, it sat for a while, waiting until I figured out the situation that the older brother was in. When I returned to the story, I continued the walk with the brothers, and the nicknames Rolly and Lolly came to me. This is a rare occasion, when a narrator of mine actually has a name. I wish I could tell you exactly where the inspiration for The Cone Zone, the criminal undertones, Hugo Huge, and sex with ice cream girl Remi came from, but that was honestly just the magic of storytelling. As I became more comfortable with Lolly's narrative style, the rest just fell into place. I knew early on that he was in major trouble with the wrong people, and I knew for sure that I wouldn't cop out and have him surivive. He made a mistake, and he would pay for it. But really, it's not Lolly's story. He is executed and that's where it ends for him. The real story is Rolly's experience of watching his brother murdered and having no idea why.

For a very long time, at least a couple years, the furthest I had written was up to the moment where Lolly grabs Rolly and runs out of the Cone Zone, still hanging out of his pants. I'm not sure what held me back for so long, other than I generally knew where the story was going and was satisfied enough with it living in my head. Skip way ahead to about half a year ago, when I showed my friend Guy Dudeman what I had written so far, and he encouraged me to finish the damn thing. So I took the motivation and ran with it, writing the rest of the story in one shot. That ending is easily one of the most heartbreaking I've ever written, just no mercy at all for the brothers. But even though I had an ending, there was still one paragraph that I found myself unable to write. For a long time, I had 'INSERT WISDOM PARAGRAPH HERE' and knew that I would return to it when I had the proper inspiration. All I knew is that there'd be a moment where Lolly knows the ending is coming and tries to share all his worldly knowledge with his younger brother. I'm not sure why this was such a difficult paragraph to write, I was just nervous about getting it exactly right, to say everything that I thought Lolly would want to say. So for a while I had an almost-story, with that one section begging to be written.

Earlier this week, I decided to give myself some motivation in the form of pressure. I thought that if I posted the first half of the story, there's no way I could just leave it half told, so I would have to write the missing section and finally complete the story. There was also the issue of what the hell to title the thing. Usually titles come quite easy to me, they fall into place during the writing process. For this one, the best I had was 'Lolly and Rolly' and that just wasn't going to do. So I skimmed the narrative for a line that stood out as a title, and that's when I noticed 'The unedited truth', which worked perfectly. I knew that the story was brutally honest with its characters, and I knew that Lolly was going to have a little discussion with Rolly where he's more honest that anybody would be with a child. So it worked. And my motivation tactic worked as well. I sat down to write the missing paragraph and actually ended up with 3 new paragraphs. One to fill in the gap between The Cone Zone and getting to the long road, and two with Lolly's advice to Rolly. A couple of quick edits, and five years later, I had a draft of ...the unedited truth....

This story has a lot of the themes and imagery that most of my stories have, which runs the risk of seeming repetitive, but also creates a unity between all my pieces of short fiction. There's the jaded male first-person narrator, the blazing sun (one day I'll write a story that takes place in the winter), an incredible lack of description about the character's appearances and the setting around them, and of course, an open-ended and very morbid ending. Other than the theme of a child's world vs. an adult's world, I didn't have a moral or message that I was trying to get across. I just wanted to write, as Lolly puts it in the intro, a cautionary tale that asks the question: what did Lolly really do wrong? I knew I didn't want him to be a hero and somehow find a way out of the mess, I liked the idea of him having a death sentence the moment he is caught with Remi. And when Rolly's ice cream cone is done, the car appears, and Lolly is done as well.

Just today, while thinking about this story in preparation for this post, I realized that ...the unedited truth... is really only the beginning, a prologue of sorts. I started thinking about Rolly's character growing up and the kind of person he'd be at Lolly's age. He'd still go by the name Rolly, and not know why. His earliest memory would be writing a story about an older brother being murdered, but not have any idea what inspired it. He'd absolutely hate ice cream, and not know why. And I'd reference a lot of Lolly's advice, incorporating it into Rolly's character as an adult. Eventually, throughout the narrative, he'd learn the truth about his brother and seek out revenge against Hugo Huge.  The title ...the unexpected truth... has a nice sound to it. The idea is there, I just have to write it.

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