Character Study (Intro)

As you know, I love to write stories. One of my favorite aspects of writing a new piece, whether fiction or screenplay, is the opportunity to develop complex and interesting characters. Character creation is, for me, a study in human nature in a vacuum. I make people (or animals or inanimate objets) up, I imbue them with certain sensibilities and traits, strengths and flaws, fears and longings, I give them names and personal histories and then I put them in unique circumstances to see how they behave. And while I’m the one writing the story, the way the characters navigate the world of my creation is based less upon who I am and more upon who they are. This isn’t to say that there aren’t tangible pieces of myself to be found in the characters I construct; the opposite is true, as is the case for most writers. Though, I believe there’s a moment when a character becomes self-possessed, sort of like when your adolescent self chooses to no longer follow the script laid out for you by your parents. The character becomes his/her/its own being, independent of me. And I like when that happens.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to do something new on the blog called “Character Study” where, every now and then, I’ll post a short narrative about a character of my creation. These won’t be full-length stories, they’ll just be little story snippets where I test out characters and get to know them a little better. From there, I’ll see if I’d like to utilize them further or if they need a bit more fleshing out. Overall, this will be an exercise in creativity and character development, in addition to being a way for me to write without the pressure of needing to tell great stories. They’ll more likely be meh stories with good characters, which I can totally live with.

So, look out for my Character Studies!

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He Was Never Seen Alive Again

(A 100-word story that I wrote for a Creative Writing class.  I remember rushing to write it the morning it was due, but it turned out to be one of my favorite, gritty little pieces.  Now I’m considering expanding on it.  Thoughts?)

Johnny was my friend. I won’t bore you with the details: how we met, what we had in common, and all that. Just know that we were friends.

Johnny was a good kid, but he had his demons. Most people can hide theirs, you know, smile and act like everything’s okay. And Johnny used to, but it got to be too much.

Johnny’s mom was an addict. And his old man? That bastard would beat the shit out of Johnny like it was a sport. Johnny finally got fed up and left. Ran away. He was never seen alive again.

Why Franz Kafka is (Still) No Friend of Mine

Growing up, I had always been an avid reader, eagerly devouring one good book after the next.  Unfortunately, as the amount of novels and plays I was assigned to read for school increased, my pleasure-reading decreased. To remedy this, I made it a goal of mine to resume reading for fun during my semester abroad in London and I’ve been pretty successful.  In the past few months, I’ve read numerous novels, plays, and collections of short stories, most of which I’ve found extremely enjoyable.

All except what I happen to be reading right now: a collection of short stories by Franz Kafka.

I became familiar with the fiction of Mr. Kafka the way that, I assume, most of us have.  At some point in high school, I was required to read his most famous short story, “The Metamorphosis,” that odd little existentialist ditty about a man who wakes up to find that he’s been transformed into a giant cockroach, not unlike the ones seen in a NYC subway.  When I first read it, I was more than a bit unsure about what made this a good story, but at the indulgence of my English teacher, I wrote a respectful essay about it and moved the heck on.

A couple of weeks ago, I recognized that same copy of “The Metamorphosis” on my bookshelf and decided to pick it up.  I hadn’t realized that there were other pieces of fiction by Kafka also printed in the book, so I decided to read some of them and see if my view of this gentleman’s writing ability could be at all swayed.

After reading four of his other stories, the answer to that is a resounding, “Nope.”

What was that guy’s deal?  I don’t deny that Kafka has an amazing way with words and that he artfully paints the picture of the story he’s conveying to his readers.  Nor do I deny that his ability to get so deep into his characters’ psyches is awe-inspiring.  It’s just: What in the world is he talking about?  What is he trying to tell us?  What is the purpose of all of these complex and interesting characters who have these incoherent story lines?

It’s like I need a decoder ring to figure out what he might be trying to say, maybe, kinda, if you look at it with your eyes squinted while tilting your head to the left.  I need definitive answers and Franz Kafka hasn’t given me a single one, so we are not and will never be friends.

How to Be a Twenty-Something Loser

(In the style of Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”)

Your alarm clock blares, scaring you from your unpleasant slumber: the four-hour nap that you pathetically refer to as a full night’s sleep. Mumble a few expletives, then roll out of bed and shuffle to the bathroom like your great uncle Jack used to shuffle around, before he got his power chair.

After taking a piss, look in the mirror and fixate for a moment on your face. You look like a tired old man, in desperate need of a shave and a haircut. Then think, Fuck it, it’s fall, the rugged look is in.  You splash some cool water on your face and finally begin waking up, when you hear pounding on your room door. Oh yeah, you realize, you left your alarm on.

So, you open the door and decide to play dumb with your best bro/apartment mate. He curses at you about the noise and asks if you’re going to shut the goddamn thing off.  What noise, you respond, but you have to half-shout it because your alarm has escalated to an eardrum-shattering volume.

Smile when he calls you an asshole. He’s not a morning person, so he doesn’t take to your smile too kindly. Instead, he pushes past you into the room and rips the batteries out of the clock. He slams them into your hand and storms out the door, but not before you quip, Good morning to you too, sweetheart.

Shut your door and start getting dressed. Think about how much you hate your job and how quickly you’d quit if Sallie Mae didn’t have you by the balls.  But she does, so you throw on a blue plaid shirt with your corduroy pants.  Business casual? No, though you haven’t a shit to give. You figure it’ll be a few months, a year tops, before your crappy call center job is outsourced to India, anyway.

Go to the kitchen and assess your breakfast situation. It’s dire. There’s cereal, but no milk. Butter, but no bread.  Creamer, but no coffee. Your crisper contains a brown thing that may have once been a head of lettuce.  It’s moments like these when you loathe having a “bachelor pad” and wish you stayed home in your parents’ basement: Mom would coddle you to death and Dad would give you shit about not being an engineer, but at least you’d be guaranteed regular meals. Annoyed, you resolve to grab something at 7-11 on the way to work.

You get to work, late, and make a beeline toward your cubicle. Ignore the snarky receptionist who hates your guts because you hooked up with her girlfriend at the company party 2 weeks ago. Wave at your supervisor in passing: Don’t give him a chance to reprimand your tardiness or worse, force you to work through lunch to make up time. Stop and have small talk with the quiet, emo guy two cubicles down from yours. You want to stay on his good side, so that if and when he goes on a shooting rampage in your office, he’ll warn you in advance to stay home that day.

Look like you’re working, but really spend the majority of your time on Reddit and Twitter. Remain in the confines of your cubicle until lunchtime. Inch to the door with the intention of going to Chipotle, but get stopped by your supervisor right before you make it out. Work through lunch, while imagining untimely death scenarios for your supervisor. Eat the rest of the snacks you bought at 7-11 that morning.

Clock out at 5pm and drive home. Don’t buy groceries for the apartment. Instead, you and your bro, who’s now in a much better mood, have cereal and creamer for dinner. Watch TV, surf the Internet, and dick around until you fall asleep at some ungodly hour. Oversleep for work the next morning because you didn’t put the batteries back in your alarm clock.