There are two purposes for The Morning Stretch: 1) Loosen my creative muscle for a successful day of writing. 2) Strengthen my writing skills by stretching beyond the comfort zone. This won’t always produce great prose, but the goal is to become a better writer and trust that great prose will be the ultimate result.
If characters are to be believable, a writer of fiction must be able to empathize with each one he or she creates, at least to some degree … even the nasty ones. Otherwise, characters won’t act or speak authentically. For a basically decent human being, this can be difficult and I believe that anything difficult requires some practice if we are to do it well; a lot of practice if we want to excel.
Today we have another challenging stretch. It may loosen and strengthen. Do the first step before reading the second step.
Step One – Make a list of three things you would NEVER do. Two of these can be things that frighten you or are physically challenging, but they should be possible. Don’t put “Grow wings and fly” or “Meet the creature from Aliens in a dark alley.” One of these must be something that you would never do because even the thought of doing it is repellent, illegal, or immoral. Give this some thought and be willing to get uncomfortable. Don’t list things you’d like to do, but can’t, such as “Keelhaul any agent who sent me a form-letter rejection.”
Here are mine –
1. Work in a needle factory. The one thing that turns my head from the movie screen is seeing someone get a shot/injection. I hate needles.
2. Smoke. I was raised in a haze of smoke; both parents dead from smoking related illnesses. ‘Nuff said.
3. Harm my grandchildren, or any child for that matter … just the thought is upsetting.
Step Two – Choose one item from the list and write a fiction scene where the character is doing the thing you would NEVER do. Write in first person, present tense. Don’t let yourself off the hook by being a reluctant character—if your choice was “murder my mother,” don’t write about how you were forced to do it, or that you felt terrible.
My foot smashes through Oscar’s mouth but it doesn’t end the grating sing-song words. The shattered and sparking flat-screen is on its back—one end on the TV stand and the other balanced precariously on the sill of the freshly-cracked living room window—but an incessant “Doin’ the Trash … Doin’ the Trash .. Doin’ the Trash!” is still goose-stepping through my aching head.
I kick the bedroom door so hard the knob punches through the drywall and keeps it from bouncing back in my face.
“Christ, Tommy!” I yell at him. “I told you not to leave the damn TV on! Now shut the hell up!”
Spiderman’s leap into Aslan’s mouth is arrested mid-air as my grandson looks up from amid his toys. He drops Spiderman and clutches the stuffed lion to his chest. I see the bottom lip pucker and clinch my fists. The three-year-old’s blue eyes are huge and his breath begins to hitch, “wuh-hic … wuh-hic … wuh … ”
I won’t be able to stand it if the tears start, and they do. Damn Sharlene for sticking me with this … this … who knows what he is? My whore of a daughter probably doesn’t know who the father is. From the doorway, the smell of sour piss almost makes me gag. Almost four and nothin’ seems to get through his head what the commode is for. Damned if I’m gonna change his dirty diapers.
As I step into the room, Tommy raises his hands over his head and wails. Shit! If he knows what’s coming, why doesn’t he just shut his goddam pie-hole? Still in the boy’s grip, Aslan stares at me as I aim the first slap at Tommy’s head, knocking away his only protection. The wails are louder now.
My arm is drawn back once more and for certain the damn racket will soon end. I clench my fist and swing again.
Ugh! That’s an exercise that makes me feel like I need a shower.