What do you do when you want to write a short story but coddle your characters so much that even the antagonist/villain becomes a milquetoast and nothing ever happens in the story world? I think I understand a story’s building blocks. I’ve read dozens of books on the subject. But applying that knowledge has been impossible.
I try to put on my sadist boots and go to town on these character creations. I try to create characters I don’t like. But the more I delve into even the most disagreeable characters, the more I can see why they might behave in a certain way. Then, they don’t seem so disagreeable any more. Then, I want all of my characters to get together and sing kumbaya.
There’s something almost pathological about my inability to incorporate unlikable traits, hurt my fake babies, or challenge them in any meaningful way. But not doing so means I essentially have no story. No story anyone would want to read anyway. And certainly no story I can get excited about writing.
I’ve been trying to crack this nut for more than one year now. One. Agonizing. Head-banging-against-the-wall. Year.
Because I’ve been unable to do this, I’m now trying to understand why I won’t torture these pretend people. It’s completely ridiculous. I don’t seem to have a problem heaping verbal abuse on very real, very aggravating traffic. Why should I have a problem releasing my inner sadist on fake people in a fake world? It’s maddening!
One day, I hope to create deeply flawed beings and heap on the abuse. So far, the only character I’ve been able to torture is me. I’m not amused.
She was like June, sunny with flowers to cover daffodil husks no one would see.
The panic comes unbidden, triggered by random things: lightbulbs flickering, a stalling engine, the memory of a dream no longer achievable. It grabs at my chest with a cold hum then creeps outward. Its icy hands squeeze my lungs, quicken my breath. It drains the body of all soft things, empties the bone of marrow, renders me bit by bit into a viscous fluid that collects into a quivering pool beneath me. The remorseless chill moves up my spine, encircles my skull. It brings forth the certain knowledge that I’m here on borrowed time which will be over far sooner than any preparation could bear. I am frozen, counting time in each shallow breath until my flesh reconstitutes and I can, once again, forget.
Virgil and Sharon Smith measure their day by television programming. As they tell guests during commercial breaks, “…two o’clock is Bonzai Gunslingers. Then at three we watch Entitled Rich 1950’s Girl Pseudodrama. After that is Guess the Price of This Crap…”
From morning to night their day is jam-packed.
Right now, it’s 8:23 on Wednesday evening. The Smiths are in the middle of watching the news on the only station they can trust: the Lion News Network.
“And now for news on the lighter side… The stupid half of the country has fallen for another ridiculous story.”
Sharon straightened up in her comfortable chair. “Virgil, are you listening?”
Stormer, the Lion News host, continued, “Some people will stop at nothing to make our glorious leader’s greatest accomplishments look like failures. Everyone knows our great leader, who is better than any leader that ever was or ever will be, has completely transformed our relationship with the former Axis-of-Evil Club member.”
“Buncha dummies. Always picking on our guy when he’s the only one who could pull off making that little fella our new BFF,” Sharon said.
“This time the…” Stormer looks off-camera, “can we say ‘card-carrying idiots’?” He looks back to the camera, “Well, this time they think our new BFF has launched nuclear missiles straight for our beautiful, great-again nation.”
“Who’d be dumb enough to believe our new BFF would bomb us?” Sharon asked the TV.
Stormer continued, “We received a tweet moments ago from our divine ruler, who is better than Jesus and probably responsible for creating God, that reads,” Stormer looks down at a piece of paper, “‘There is no way DB would send bombs unless they were. Banana! BFFs FOREVER!!!!'” Stormer looks into the camera, “As a reminder, DB is short for “Da Bomb” which is the nickname our truly divine ruler gave to our new BFF. The missiles are apparently filled with mashed bananas, not nuclear weapons. It’s an inside joke between two fruit-loving besties.
“The gist is that those missiles are not weapons of mass destruction.” Stormer pauses and chuckles, “Unless you mean the delicious destruction they’ll do to your waistline.”
“Virgil, get my bread pans out of the cabinet, would you?”
At the next commercial, Virgil found the pans and set them out on the kitchen counter.
They continued to watch their regular programming, enhanced by the warm glow of contentment which was based, in part, on always being right.
I conceived this blog to write about the crafts and art I work on and to indulge in general commentary and observations. It’s supposed to be the kick in the pants I sometimes need to get off dead center on projects.
After all, the blank canvas, the unformed block of stone, an uncut piece of fabric, and the blank page are equally intimidating. They leave me in a paralyzed, almost catatonic state. The pressure of having to write about the work I’m doing necessitates that I do work to write about. It’s just enough pressure to push me off the ledge and into the unknown.
Because this is a decidedly indulgent, self-centered blog, it made sense to refer to myself in the title. ‘Jello’ is an old nickname. This blog is about my life-view, whether through the art I create or the way I see the world. So it’s ‘life in jello’.
Plus, I happen to love gelatin.