Keeping it Real in Fiction

“You have a license to lie.” That seemed to be the English teachers favorite quote of the century when it came to writing. But how far can you “lie” before you begin to be “unrealistic”?

First, let’s put the term “realistic” into context. We’re not talking about realistic fiction or realism. However, there must be a “real” reason for everything in our writing. As writers, we must (and can) write about anything whatsoever that interests us or the people around us. That does not mean, however, that we should make our writings stale, unimaginative, or “unrealistic”. By putting a sense of the real, the livable, the wholly reasonable into our writing, we connect with our readers. We take a fantastical idea, a dystopian society, an evil alien warlord, a princess, and eggs for breakfast and we create a story to both entertain and connect with the people who read it. Writing with this purpose, to not only tell a story, but to “feel” others is what makes books and poems so emotionally pleasant. We can say we “just like to read” or that we merely liked the book “for the plot” but that is not what kept us there. That’s not what hooked us, reeled us in, and stayed us. Without getting to far into psychology or philosophy, we can say that emotional connections to both the character and the story is what does that.

But how? The simple answer: keeping it real. In all fiction, no matter the genre or plot, every character has a realistic sense of being. They have emotions like us, they have problems like us. They are realistic. And books written outside the realms of being realistic are more difficult both to comprehend and to connect with. That being said, there are many amazing books that could be said to be “unrealistic” merely because they do not apply to even 1/10 of the population. However, keeping it real in fiction does not just have to do with character development. It should also be seen in other aspects. As stated before, there should be a reason for everything. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is one example where, while hugely entertaining, most of it made absolutely no sense. Yet, we consider it classic because there is a reason for everything, people can feel for the characters, they understand the cause and effect of each action, and they understand what is happening in a general way.

So how can we do this? How can we, the unpublished or almost published or rewriters, etc. keep it real? Simply: x happened because of y. Literally. Wh(Y) did this happen should be the first question to ask when we’re in doubt if something is unnecessary. Why does my character need to have this quirk? If the answer is a big part of the story, put it in. Perhaps your character always fidgets with a small metal bead. Why is this important? Maybe it’s actually a bullet his father was killed with. Maybe he killed his father. Small details like this can add up to just enough backstory that your characters feel real. They evoke emotion in the reader and provide a realistic explanation for other scenes in the story (perhaps he gets in a brawl with an evil alien warlord over breakfast with eggs because he believes he has stolen it while the alien believes it has magical power to save his sister, the princess). Also, what about your setting? Why does the Earth suddenly have zero gravity? Why did the moon turn red?

When a writer “lies” it’s normally for a good reason. While it’s perfectly legal, it could be very confusing if your story is set in a normal suburban neighborhood in the 21st century and the grass is purple. What did you notice in that sentence? The grass is purple. Like this one sentence, when you constantly throw out random details like such through a book without any reason as to why, it can be distracting. There could be dinosaurs fighting in one scene and, if that’s explained, the only thing the reader would be wondering is “wait, but why is the grass purple”? This clearly could become a problem when you’re trying to include something crucial and the point just isn’t getting across. So, while yes, you do have a license to lie, you must keep your lies believable.

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Armani and Flip-Flops

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She was a drop of sunshine, sent from above.
He was rain, or a teardrop.
She was light and airy, she had wings.
He was dark and closed, he lifted his weighted chains every day to get out of bed.
She was free and he was not.
But he was unattached, where she was held down and fighting.
She was his past and his future, yet they had never met. Until finally, today, he was supposed to meet her. She didn’t know it, but in the midst of all the chaos and ruin, the flaming sun and acid rain, he had found her. She was the future of the Earth, supposedly. While he was a broken escapee of a group of extremists. As soon as he had remembered he had family, he ran. Far. He ended up right where he had started, beaten down and in the slums, watching from the outside in. His mother decided he was forgotten, so he had forgot her. But now, her, a chance to get out, get help, change things. But she would never know.

He looked up, into the mirror. He was not the innocent boy begging for bread anymore. He ran his hands through raggedy hair, stopping at the ends. He held it taut and lifted the scissors, clipping at the base of his neck. He went throught the process the men had taught him, snipping and razing until it was no longer than a couple inches. It would have to do. He shaved, the first time in a month or two. The first time he’d had enough money for the habit. His face was washed of the dirt and grime collected from the streets and polluted air.

The trees were almost all gone, he thought wistfully as he peered out the window to his left. Looking back into the mirror, he carefully traced the lines around his eyes with a finger, and down to the ones around his mouth. They weren’t there a couple of years ago. Letting out a soft grunt for the past, he turned on his heel, walking back into the one and only room he had. It was small and cramped, a bed that doubled as a sofa pushed up against the wall, a tiny refrigerator, stove, and one solitary cabinet against the other. At least he had a fairly nice microwave oven. He got it from a restaurant down the street. Closed now. Rats they said. Dirty, dirty rats. He hurriedly dressed, pulling on a suit and tie. It was Armani, gold cufflinks, camel colored to set off his eyes. As somebody once told him. It was the only nice thing left of the past few years. He would never give it up unless he was at deaths door. And even then, it would probably go home with him. He shoved his feet almost haphazardly into a pair of loafers. Stolen from a thrift. But they were in good condition, nice brand, and comfortable. He never stole unless it was absolutely necessary. And a man can’t go to a gala in Armani and flip-flops.

He looked good. He knew that without looking in the mirror. But he still did, because it was a special occasion. And he wanted to look… deceivingly good. He put a bit of gel in his hair, just what he had been saving for months. He adjusted his sleeves and tie until they set just right. Perfect. She would never know.

Having nothing important but a paper to bring, he shoved the latter into his pocket, along with a breathmint and a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He didn’t smoke, but perhaps she did. Squaring his shoulders, he pushed open his door. And walked out, onto the sidewalk he normally walked with hunched back and slight limp. And for once, he felt powerful. He felt like a year ago. Except now he had a bullet wound in his leg and shoulder blade, scars crossing his stomach, and the wrinkles in his otherwise young face. He drew attention. He looked like a somebody. Yet nobody recognized him.

The wealth of luxe he was walking into was thankfully only a few blocks away. It was where the buildings started to get taller, the streets were cleaned up, the electronic billboards still had light. He knew exactly where the festivities were. He knew the exact street, building, apartment, and door. He had played and begged there. He gritted his teeth. And walked inside. Without even glancing at the signs, he stepped onto the lift, pressing eight and door 441. It hauled him off quickly, the slight pressure helping him lean against the wall without too much pain in his knee. Soon, the doors opened onto an woman standing outside a red painted door. She was elderly, but still up with the trends and tech as he could see from her glittering gold dress and ear com. He wondered how she could still hear, let alone be alive.

She probably had work done, his mind meandered as he looked her over. Mrs. Whitley, poor Mrs. Whitley. Although now that her husband had died she probably wasn’t as poor. Surely she’d acquired that mansion in England. He smiled down at her.

“My condolences about the late Mr. Whitley.” he said, taking her hand and giving it a light squeeze. “Thank you for the invitation as well.”

Mrs. Whitley smiled, a confused cocking of the mouth. “Thank you young man. I’m sorry, I don’t quite remember your name.”

He smiled back at her, patting her hand. Of course she didn’t remember. “Zach. Zachery Silver. I met you a little while ago. Hmm, now where was that? Ah! The peace conference. In Seattle. That poor city…”

“Oh, yes, I remember you! I remember remarking to my husband when I planned this shindig how funny it would be to have a Gold and a Silver.” she replied. “And yes, yes, we all were shocked when the Needle fell.”

“Yes, well, let’s not ruin the mood. I should go and greet our guest of honor. Where might I find the legendary Ms. Gold?” he questioned, trying to relax his smile.

“Oh, well I wouldn’t have a clue. She’s always all over the place. Quite the social butterfly. She’ll be somewhere inside though. I last saw her near the fireplace with some lady friends. Perhaps she’s still there.” her hand squeezed his one last time before she let go and turned, humming softly.

He nodded, chuckling to himself before opening the red door and heading inside. He knew exactly what she looked like. He knew the sound of her voice and how she walked. He hadn’t stalked her. They were just so similar. And he had watched her as she ordered coffee. Every Saturday at 12:47. An iced coffee with light carmel and whole milk and a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. The coffee shop was right down the road from him, an odd spot for a lady like her.

He had only spoken with her once. An acid storm had just started and she was stuck inside, late for a meeting. He asked her if she wanted his jacket. She had said yes and thanked him profusely, given him money to use at the shop and walked away. He bought a coffee afterwards, exactly what she had gotten. And it tasted just like he had expected. Too much like hope and wishes. He threw it out on the ground outside after the storm. But now he had a chance again. He thought of all of it as he walked across the room, eyes skimming people he uses to know or could have known. Who knew him before. Each and every one had their secrets. Secrets they would kill to keep under wraps. He was certain some had. The younger ladies threw glances at him, to which he responded with an insolent, condescending scowl. What mothers they had. The older ones were pleasantly curious who the mannerly young man was, especially after he saved a mans cane from rolling under a chair.

But he had only one person in mind. Her. And he found her quickly, as he was walking to get some punch. He saw her like a lightning bolt had just struck; he was flabbergasted and awed. She wore a gown of gold and silk that highlighted her chestnut hair and bright green eyes. Like his suit did for him. And he could tell she knew it in the way she held her head high and walked with a slight sashay. She was confident and proud, with all the reason in the world to be so. After all, she was just made Chief Commander in Scientific Intelligence, the biggest part of the National Weather and Biological Protection Program. The NWBPP had labeled her as the best and brightest, in complete control of all her decisions and the most well rounded student they’d had the privilege of working with. Or so the newspapers said. He didn’t doubt it. After all, they were almost one in the same. Just wait until they saw him with a computer though, he trailed off.

He poured himself a drink, swirling the ice cubes around as he looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She was conversing with a couple of girl friends and another man, all about her age. They were smiling and laughing as they talked, but he noticed her eyes looked distracted; they kept darting about, as if they were searching for something or somebody. It was as good a time as any. He walked up.

“Well, if it isn’t the renowned Ms. Gold.” he started with a swift smile. “You look lovely tonight. And congratulations.”

She smiled back, allowing her eyes to finally settle on him. “Thank you. It’s an honor. And who might you be?”

“Zachary Silver. You can call me Zach, most do. I work at the Biotechnical College just down the road.”

“Oh, really? It’s a beautiful campus. Are you a teacher?” she asked, turning completely toward him.

He could smell the perfume she wore, a familiar scent. “Well, in a sense. I experiment and I’m coming up with some new ideas for the NWBPP and teach on the side. Majoring in computers and sequencing, not to toot my own horn. But hence why I wanted to meet you, seeing as I’ll be working closely with you sometime.”

She chuckled, raising a sculpted eyebrow. “Aren’t I the one who will decide that?”

He grinned. She was exactly as he had remembered. “Touché.”

She laughed again, this time louder, a more genuine sound. “Do you have your I.D.? I’ll put you in the database. I feel like we’ve met before, or you remind me of someone.”

He smiled, turning so his back was to the crowd. Her friends had walked off, leaving them by the fire. “Yeah, my I.D.’s right here.” He rubbed the rim of his glass, almost absentmindedly as he dug in his pocket. “In fact, I think we have met.”

Her mouth turned down in concentration. “But where at?”

He handed her the piece of paper he had made sure to take. “It’s just a photocopy.” he paused, looking her in the eyes. “Huggy.”

Her eyes snapped up, he saw her shoulders tense and mouth open. “Excuse me? D-did you just…”

“It’s been a while.” he responded flatly.

“Who are you? Oh my God. Zach.” she reached behind her, clutching the mantelpiece. “Zachy… you were dead.”

“No. I was forgotten Huggy. There’s a difference. I was a beat up pair of party store flip flops Sarah. Flip flops, that’s as good as I got!” he stepped closer, whispering and disturbingly calm. “I knew I couldn’t die. Not until I saw you. Armani. That’s what you always were. First class. And I never resented it. Never. I looked up to you.”

“Zachy, I’m sorry but I thought you were dead. Dead or wanted. Who ever knew with you.” she grabbed his arm, tears starting to show in glassy eyes, rain on emeralds. “Let me take you to the house, please!”

“No! It’s too late Huggy. I just wanted you to remember.” her face was already foggy. “Remember I loved you and forget the rest.”

His knees went weak and he shuddered, felt her nails in his bicep, saw her eyes dilate. “No, what are you talking about?! You can’t Zachy! Don’t you dare pull some dramatic act on me right after this!”

“You never did believe me…” he crumbled, like a fence in a hurricane.
It happened in slow motion, she watched as he folded, she screamed, grabbing and clutching him. She went down right after, her dress pooling like a lake, firelight reflecting off the sparkles. Her head hit the floor next to him. People rushed around her, grabbed at her shoulders. She clawed and fumbled, arms swinging and tears pouring, but she couldn’t fight the Medics who came, sirens blaring. They dragged her off of him. Placed her on a stretcher. She rode right next to him, her hand grasping his. It went cold. A hospital came and went. Papers passed trembling hands. Plans happened. A month flew by.

The gravestone read: Zacharias Gold Beloved Sister of Sarah (Huggy) Gold. May your love be remembered.

Walls

Cage of bone
Wings of flesh.
Muscles hold in the vibrations
As laughs try to escape.
A smile forces its way between bars to be
Forced back by its jailer.
Walls are built around a secret garden
Roses and posies and green
Hidden by stone and hard and gray.
There’s a door there
Left unhinged.
Only the bravest make it there.
Only the sincere see the garden.
And only I am here to protect it.
But I am no
Soldier, I am not
Trained.
Little door swinging with
Hinges squeaking.
I realize my walls are in a state of disrepair
Crumbling and cracked.
You have broke my walls but my ribs are still a
Prison. Whitewashed clean
Stronger than the words and
Empty promises I have always heard.
I should like to ask my friends,
The ones who are true will know what I mean,
When I pose the question
“Will you visit me in jail?”

Rewriting and Rewriting and Rewriting.

“Sometimes I think I see the light, but then I realize it’s just the truth staring me straight in the eyeballs.” – Ace, from ——

Oh, look! A line I wrote that I actually really liked! That’s how we all feel about our writing at one time or another. God, I can’t think of a good first sentence…
I’m going to take a guess that all of us have one of those paragraphs in our writings. Whether it’s an essay, a rough draft for a story, a manuscript, etc., we all have those moments. Where you sit down, ready to write, and full of ideas. And you get out your laptop or paper (or typewriter maybe) and you start scribbling. And it’s like you never stop. You’re thinking “this is it; I’m gonna finish this chapter and the next, maybe the whole thing.” And you do. You smile and save everything or stack up your papers and slip them wherever. We all think “I’ll edit them later.” Which we do. Right?
Wrong. You probably have lost them beneath the abyss that is the underbelly of your bed. Or you forgot about them. Maybe the file gets deleted. Or, a common one for myself, you go back and reread them and think “What on God’s earth is this? Did I actually write this? Surely not. Oh gosh, I need to burn this.” Which you promptly do… “it’s a metaphor”.
But really, let’s be honest here. It’s not uncommon for a writer to write something brilliant and then go back to it, wherefore, rather than editing and rewriting, we go to the extreme.

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Which is why rewriting is such an important step. Just because you hate what you wrote after the fact, or because you got some criticism does not mean the idea itself was bad. You merely need to work on it. Like a dish, some foods work amazingly together but need some extra spice and seasoning to get them to that extra length. Just because your piece of writing didn’t “taste” perfect on the first go doesn’t mean you should throw the whole pot (or pan) out. Some readjustments might need to be made, things added or taken out, etc. That never means the idea is bad. Every idea has a good point, and with a little rewriting, that can be expounded on. Point being: even when the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be a UFO, at least you’ll be famous later….. is just the cold hard truth, make the best out of it, get better, and repeat. That’s what rewriting and recipes are for after all.

Imaginary

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Little stuffed bunnies
and bright colored tutus.
Spinning in circles
while her hair flies.
She asks me to dance
holds out her hands.
I take them and spin her
till she tells me
she’s too old for that anymore.
We must be proper and ladylike
she says and tea gets
poured into vintage cups painted
blue and white and green.
Soon her bunnies start to disappear
like fog on the glass the night I
noticed her voice was just a bit
softer.
Now she rides her bike around the neighborhood
while I trail behind.
I shout for her to wait up
but sometimes she forgets about me
but only for a minute or two.
Then she circles back and says she’s
sorry and grabs my hand and laughs.
Her voice sounds a little more
muffled now.
I think she’s eleven.
There’s a boy in class she tells me
about while she paints her nails blue.
She says blue because she’s sad
tha the boy hasn’t noticed her.
He likes a girl named Ashley
and I wish I could help.
But she’s seeming a bit
blurry like looking through dusty
binoculars.
When she’s sixteen she gets a cat and
I feel a little lonely as she starts to talk to him.
She named him something from her
favorite TV show.
I don’t watch it much with her anymore.
Her voice is fading even faster until one day
after school when she’s eighteen.
She tells me a boy
broke her heart and cut it into pieces.
Fed it to the dogs and she’d never
love anyone but me.
She got out an old bunny covered in
dust and old memories.
She held it tight and cried almost
all night.
I comforted her as well as I could
but touch is an important thing.
Something I can not help with.
Another friend comes over.
She whispers to me that they’re close but not that close.
But I think I know better because I see in his eyes something I have in my own.
She can’t see it yet but I’m sure she feels it later
as he tells her everything will be ok.
Her girl friends tell her the things they’ll do to help her forget.
I’m slipping away slowly but surely.
I see the other boy and her get closer.
Two years of barely any communication.
She’s faded past recognition.
Then I hear her voice.
She’s speaking with her father about the
flowers and aisle runners and her
dress.
I smile to myself and think
this is it.
Her voice finally slips away on
“I do.”
And my hand falls from hers as I
whisper
Love her as much I did.

Creepy Clowns and Writing Prompts

Todays belated post was prompted (hahaha, puns) by this Ten Quote Tuesday installment and kind of inspired by this wonderfully written post on fight scenes. The prompt? Begin your scene with this line: the circus looked very different with all the lights off.

The circus looked very different with all the lights off. It had gone from the happy and vibrant place she remembered from childhood to a dark and hulking place of creepy clown nightmares. Not that she was scared, oh no. He said to meet here at ten and she wasn’t about to let a lack of light to keep her away. She looked up at the huge Ferris wheel towering above her and thought to herself, my what ease it would take for somebody to creep in one of those buckets. To her left she saw a grossly colored stand advertising a ring toss game and the prizes; a giant overstuffed bear just as vibrant as the stand but pastel and glowing. Probably made in China. She shivered as she looked at it, it’s overdrawn felt mouth seeming to grow in size and malicious intent every second. A loud bang and creak made her head snap to look in the opposite direction where, through the mist, she saw a figure, clearly a man by his size and gait. She stood where she was, her backpack strap clenched in one fist and her other hand resting on the waistband of her jeans. As he drew closer, he snapped out a salute, nodding at her.

“Sorry if I scared you. Knocked over a trash can.” he greeted her.

She rolled her eyes, checking him out for concealed weapons. Although she couldn’t help but allow her eyes to linger just a second on his biceps. “Yeah, whatever. Let’s get on with this if you don’t mind.”

“You don’t want an introduction?” he asked, grinning cheekily.

“No thanks Z. Do you have the papers I asked for?”

He seemed to chuckle but it was forced, the sound of somebody who was nervous.

“Yeah, I got ‘em. You know, a seventeen year old shouldn’t be carrying a gun Laila.”

“I only have it in case I don’t get what I want Zach.” Her brain seems to twitch as she hears a sound behind me. She passes it off. Just a breeze ruffling paper. Nothing to get her skin itching like it already is. Goosebumps raise on her neck and arms as more fog rolls in, lighting everything under moonlight with a ghastly glow. Zach is shifting, but trying to hide it. She tries to keep up the pretense of being armed.

“I have the papers. But do we really know what we’re getting into here?” he asks, sticking his hands in his pockets. He’s stepped closer, enough for her to see his features. Just as dangerously innocent as she remembered. Green eyes, hooded under strong brows that always seemed worried and caring. Full mouth that remained neutral most of the time, but spoke words sweeter than honey and sharper than knives. A straight nose and high cheekbones that could give a person a paper cut. The jaw of a Greek god. She shook herself.

“What are you talking about? We had a deal Zach.” She responded, angrily shaking her dark hair and letting it fall around her face like a storm cloud. Another noise behind her made her turn her head. She didn’t even realize her mistake until Zach had her in a chokehold.

“Had being a good word to describe this situation, eh?” he growled in her ear.

She coughed, writhing, but he was clearly stronger and moved quickly, slamming her back against another stand.

“Drop the gun Laila. Don’t make yourself look stupid.” He said.

Laila gritted her teeth. “Loosen up.” She choked out, panting when his grip did so, even though it was only be a couple millimeters. Her hand went back to her waistband. She grinned. Zach was too slow. Her teeth sank into his arm as her hand grabbed the knife hidden and whipped it backwards, feeling it hit his shoulder. He immediately let go, grabbing his shoulder.

“You just made a mistake.” He spat, lunging at her.

She sidestepped him easily, but he caught her ankle, bringing her down hard and making the knife fly into darkness. She kicked, her heels connecting with his elbow but he barely budged, dragging her toward him. He sat straight on her legs once she was close enough, pinning her arms down.

“My partner will be here soon. I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting…”

Her head connected to the base of his throat hard. She felt the wind go out of him as he slumped to the side. She quickly rolled him off. Now what to do? She smiled broadly, getting up as fast as her ankles would allow her. Her favorite part of the circus.

She grabbed Zach by the arms, testing his weight. He was lean, but muscular. He should stay out for long enough, she thought. She looked over her shoulder, searching for the two poles. There. She started jogging to the bungee jumping area. The wind whipped her hair around her as the clouds started to grow. Mist obscured the operators booth as she went straight to the huge trampoline. She gauged the ropes. Thank goodness she had packed another knife. She reached down, grabbing it from her boot. Now the blue wire. She quickly sawed through a couple, keeping them fairly long. Rushing back to Zach, she was relieved to see he was still about as out of it as a coma patient. Using the ropes, she secured his hands, letting it have a little slack. After all, what was the fun if he was caught? She tied the other end to a little d-ring on the wall of the stand.

Walking back over to Zach, she dropped down to a knee, ruffling through his jacket pockets. Finally, in the inside breast pocket, she found them. She smiled down. “Such a pretty face. You’re right. We had a deal. And I really need those papers.”

Her knife dragged along his cheekbone lightly, leaving stitch sized marks. “Not so innocent looking now, are we. And you were right. I shouldn’t carry a gun.” She whispered, standing and walking away, jamming pages into her backpack.

One by One

A pin drops. The room is void of noise. A young girl looks up at me. “Did you hear that?” she asks.

I laugh. “You broke it.”

“What?” her eyes are wide and she pouts with arms crossed.

“The peace.” I say.

“You can not break peace.”

I laugh once more. She would not know. I see a face at the door. She still looks like I knew her once. Now her eyes are large and red and she holds a prick in her fist. It is time. She comes in slow at first then strides our way. She should not have fear. What can we do?

I hold up a hand. She stops a foot in front of the girl and I. “Do not cut hers off. Take mine.”

Her eyes stare but seem to get the point. She nods and turns to me. I kneel, and fold my wings down. The peace has been broke.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “One at a Time.”