Some of you know that my current work-in-progress is a short story called, “Life”. It’s the first in a trilogy of shorts which includes “Liberty” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”. I completed drafts of the latter two in less than a month but after six weeks (mainly staring at an empty screen), I have only one scene of “Life” completed.
So today, I went for some help. I met with my friend George, once was my partner in literary crime (we produced a satirical newsletter called “Rude Dogma” our final year in seminary/graduate school). Using his keen pastoral skills, astute literary sensibilities, and sharp ear for social critique, he was able to diagnose my problem with Life and set me on a course toward liberation.
What is the story of my “Life”, you ask?
Basically, it is the story of two high school sweethearts who reach a fork in the road. He wants to get married. She wants to go to college. At an impasse, they basically go their separate ways. The story follows her journey to IU (in the early 1960s) where she encounters the beginnings of a social-sexual revolution. She is faced with choices she must make (and choices made for her) that lead to a point of crisis.
So, what is my problem with Life, you ask?
Well, I have several.
First, I am trying to anticipate the reaction of the readers (or viewers, if it becomes a screenplay) before I write the first draft. I am imagining intense criticism, for instance, for pretending to know the perspective of a woman (in 1963, no less) as she makes very personal decisions about relationships, career, sex, etc… Instead of being my own worst critic before anything is on the page, I need to first tell the story (or let the story tell itself).
Next, I’ve gotten bogged down doing the grinding (though somewhat necessary) work of research. Yesterday I spent 5 hours reading past student newspapers at the IU library (and paid $26 for parking) and still only made it through less than one month. George recommended I hop on “Netflix” and watch the series “Madmen”, which evidently accurately depicts the early 1960s in a very compelling way. (This is one reason I like to keep George on retainer. While I would just as soon move to Montana and write haiku for mountain goats, he stays engaged with culture.)
Finally, my characters are underdeveloped. By providing an affirming yet credible critique of “Liberty”, George was able to help me see some things I can develop in “Life” so that the characters grow and emerge as distinct persons you may not always agree with, but whom you want to get to know.
While I still have research to do (like watching “Madmen” and hopefully interviewing women who lived through the early 1960s), I believe I am ready to now sit down and write the story. I’m setting a goal to write one scene a day (starting tomorrow), which should mean I would have a working draft by the end of next month.
Now I’m wondering, just what can I offer my good buddy George in exchange for his transforming literary therapy (apart from singing his praises in this blog post)?
……. I could click that annoying button that keeps popping up on my Facebook and send him a Starbucks gift card. (But no, that feels impersonal and I’m on a tight budget.)
……. I could abandon my allegiance to the IU Hoosiers and start rooting for the UK Wildcats, possibly even sending a letter of protest to the NCAA for their exclusion from the tournament. (But no, when I cut my veins I bleed crimson – not blue. How anyone can bleed blue is beyond me.)
…… I could join the Xenia, Ohio Crane Operators Guild and wage a campaign to elect him “Sovereign Lord and Grand Pubah For Life”. (But no, I’m essential apolitical and you probably have to have a job as a crane operator to join.)
I guess I’ll have to pray about it some more. Or better yet, in the truly modern, American way, I conduct a poll on the blogosphere!
What do you think I should give George?