Creative Writing 101, Mr. Barrett
- Introduction to Characters, Setting, and Plot
- Main character: Mr. D, a creative writing adjunct
- Memorable Physical Detail: green eyes like sparkling emeralds or something less expected, e.g., wet kale?
- Desires: to publish a book; a better teaching job; and, most importantly, Lucinda, though he fights this desire
- Complexities/contradictions: he’s masculine but also quite sensitive, like I could totally picture him living on a sheep ranch along a cliff by the sea
- Main character: Lucinda, a college sophmore
- Memorable Physical Detail: blue-gray eyes like robin’s eggs glittering in the sun on a dewy morning (you can’t say that’s cliché!)
- Desires: Mr. D
- Complexities/Characteristics: sexy in a quirky, non-conventional way; she’s really smart, but some people assume she’s dumb just because she has large breasts (Like Kevin! God, Mr. B, I hope you gave him an F on that story)
- Minor character: the re-animated head of Dr. Carl Hill from the movie Re-Animator (I’m thinking there’s no need to “flesh” him out given that a re-animated decapitated head is already pretty memorable)
- Setting: classroom and the coffee shop where Mr. D holds his office hours
- Plot: Given the characters’ desires, it’s clear where the story is going, at least on the surface. The second story layer is challenging, though. I considered giving Lucinda’s mother cancer or making her brother a war veteran with PTSD or a missing leg, but those choices seem too expected, not to mention totally depressing. So I’m going to write Story #2 in the form of a fictional story that my character Lucinda writes for her creative writing class. Lucinda will name her characters Samantha and Mr. Z, but Lucinda’s teacher, Mr. D, will eventually come to understand that the story is really about Lucinda’s fantasies about him. Oh, and Lucinda will make parenthetical comments to Mr. D within her story about Samantha and Mr. Z that will help make her intent clear. (Does that count as a second layer, Mr. B?)
- Main character: Mr. D, a creative writing adjunct
- Rising Action: key scenes leading up to the story’s climax
- Lucinda’s fictional story opens with a scene in which Samantha’s creative writing class is discussing Mary Gaitskill’s story “Secretary,” and to make some point about the characters in the story, Samantha reads aloud a passage (the one that begins, “He began spanking me…”). As Samantha reads, she imagines that Mr. Z has herbent over his desk and that he’s spanking her. Lucinda will write, “Each smack of his hand is like the turn of a tuner on a guitar string, tightening the throbbing between her legs.” (Kevin said that “Secretary” isn’t the least bit sexy, that it’s some demented female fantasy, but Kevin is an idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about what’s sexy. You might have heard, Mr. B, that I dated Kevin. I want you to know that I was a freshman at the time and it was only for two months. I recognize now that he’s an immature imbecile.)
- Z gives Samantha a C on the sketch she turns in for Story #1 because he says an outline isn’t a sketch and that he told her that already. This is bullshit because he said in class that the #1 rule in creative writing is that all rules are made to be broken. Thus, Samantha concludes that Mr. Z is acting like the lawyer in “Secretary,” that the C is like a spanking. Punishing her gets him off. This makes Samantha want to provoke him more, to find out what he’ll do next; thus, she decides that her sketch for Story #2 will also be an outline.
- Samantha reads a book of Mary Gaitskill stories in the coffee shop where Mr. Z holds his office hours. He pretends he doesn’t see her, just as Mr. D pretended not to see Lucinda when she did this, but Samantha can feel Mr. Z’s eyes crawling around her skin like a trail of ants. She’s not wearing any underwear beneath that dress. Mr. Z can’t know this, of course, but Mr. D will now know that when Lucinda was reading that Gaitskill book in the coffee shop where he holds his office hours, she wasn’t wearing any underwear, either. He’ll know that Lucinda was imagining his eyes as ants navigating her body.
- Obviously, the final moment of the rising action needs to culminate in Samantha and M. Z coming into physical contact, finally. I’m fond of the idea of Lucinda writing a scene in which Mr. Z wads up some writing of Samantha’s and shoves it inside her mouth, but I want to stay true to their characters, and I’m not sure that Mr. Z would be quite so bold. (Do you think it’s realistic, Mr. B? If not, I could bring them together by an external force, e.g., Samantha trips and falls into Mr. Z’s arms or an earthquake knocks them into each other. But I really hope you’ll say my first idea is realistic because I think it makes for a much better story, don’t you?)
- Samantha and Mr. Z have sex, of course. In the classroom—on Mr. Z’s desk, up against the chalkboard, on the chair where Samantha’s annoying classmate (I’ll call him Devin) always sits. They fuck and fuck until they’re both so exhausted that they lie on the pile of their clothes and stare up at the tiles in the ceiling. I want to describe the sex with lyrical, fresh language, but everything I come up with is either silly, e.g., “At the mere touch of his finger, she came alive like a cellphone in sleep mode” or cliché, e.g., “She felt as though an explosion went off inside her.” (Then again, orgasm does feel like an explosion, don’t you think, Mr. B?)
- Of course, there has to be some sort of a turn in the story, besides just the sex. This is where the re-animated decapitated head of Dr. Carl Hill comes in. As much as Samantha is attracted to Mr. Z, she can’t orgasm unless she imagines some grotesque violation of her body. Thus, when Mr. Z is going down on her or fingering her or whatever, she imagines the tongue of the re-animated decapitated head of Dr. Carl Hill. (Mr. B, I know you commented on my first story for this class that when my protagonist imagined being probed by an alien, it was “inappropriate” for an undergraduate writing class, but you also talked just last week about how we should take risks in our writing and how we should “not censor” ourselves.)
- (On the first story I wrote for this class, Mr. B, you also commented that a sex scene, like any other scene, should never just be about what’s physically happening; it should reveal character or advance the plot in some deeper way. With that in mind, in the middle of the sex scene Lucinda writes, she will have Samantha moan “Mr. D” instead of “Mr. Z” so that if Mr. D has not gotten it by this point that Lucinda’s story is really about her fantasies about him, he will now!)
- See II. d. and III. a. only substitute Lucinda and Mr. D in place of Samantha and Mr. Z. I’m fairly confident that no earthquakes or clumsy accidents will be required at this juncture. By the time he’s finished reading the story Lucinda wrote about Samantha and Mr. Z, Mr. D’s cock will be throbbing. He’ll hurry to the coffee shop. Lucinda will be sitting at that back table in the corner where he always sits. She’ll be wearing that same dress she wore when she was reading the Mary Gaitskill book. Mr. D will sit next to her, so close she can smell the whiskey on his breath, which he tries to hide with those Altoids he’s always popping into his mouth. He’ll remove her story from his duffel bag. He’ll wad up the first page. (I think I can rely on the reader to fill in what happens next. Right, Mr. B?)
Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Passages North, The Pinch, and other venues. Her work was selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 for 2019 and was a finalist for Best of the Net 2018. She’s fiction editor of Atticus Review. www.michellenross.com