Sunday, November 15, 2009

Using Emotions to Drive Your Next Plot
 copyright 2009, Aaron Paul Lazar

It’s over.

No longer will I hold my arms open and welcome you to my home as “friend,” waiting for your eyes to bore into me and squash me to the ground.

No longer will I seat you in my room of treasures, wondering if you’ll ever notice the soft patina of the cherry wood, or comment on the colors so carefully blended, or the subtle beauty of the cherished Oriental handed down by ancestors long lost while you gloat about your friend’s lovely homes.

No longer will I pour you a glass of my best wine–hoping it bears up under your scrutiny–and gently place it beside you while you vomit your latest accomplishment as I smile and listen and… grovel.

I hate that about myself, but I was raised to be polite. But damn it, you never stop talking.

Nor will I listen to your long list of accomplishments or acquisitions, feeling belittled and betrayed by your absence of empathy. Do you ever detect that flicker of annoyance in my eyes? That glazed-over “help me” expression?

Of course not. You don’t look at me. You hold your wine in those long brown fingers and talk about yourself while your own dark eyes glow in appreciation of your own words.

Do you ever notice how much you talk? How I sit and nod and say the appropriate things to each of your new revelations? How I try to squeeze in a sentence or two and am immediately ground under your wheels in your constant games of one-up-manship?

No longer will I be forced to bear your words responding to my latest decision to try something–anything–instead of wallowing in this land of no-one-wants-me. Never is my new-found passion the "right thing for me," the appropriate interest, the proper fit.

Yet, when I try to force you to listen by gently prodding you, kidding you, making you take notice of my latest interest–you chide me and say you’re surprised I hadn’t learned about this when I lived in Boston 30 years ago, where everyone was doing it. Your knowledge in the field is deep and well renowned. So you say. Once again, I am belittled. Once again, I plunge into an abyss of worthlessness.

When I discover an interest in working with the disabled, you frown and say I haven’t the skills. “Who would hire you? You have no experience.” You toss out your own dalliances in the field as cavalierly as you can, bragging about famous connections. No, you find fault with it all, and tell me with tongue in cheek that maybe I should try… being an author.

Damn, that stings.

I mention my newest book, a saucy expression crosses your face and you say with near distain I liked your first book better, when everyone else disagrees.

Your words seem to matter, cut deeper, than all the praise in the world. Why?

Still, I hand you signed copies of all my novels. You never offer to pay for them, even when you stop by to pick one up to give to a friend. And when I mention the price, your eyebrows shoot to the moon, as if shocked I actually would charge you, my privileged friend. So I back down and donate it, once again.

You frown at me for not being a best-selling author yet, and tell me about your friends who are. You say, “You need national coverage,” as if I haven’t been trying for years to get there, to sell a hundred thousand books in a year. You show me hardcover books with jackets and gold printing and say, “that’s how your books should appear,” as if I WANT my books forever released in trade paperback.

You show up unannounced, and expect me to stop dinner, or playtime with grandkids, or my outdoor projects, to stand and nod my head and say, “Wow,” with every new announcement, for grueling hours at a time.

Yet I call you friend. Yet I know you believe you’re doing me a favor by granting me the privilege of your experience and advice. And yet tonight, I don’t care.

Of course that’s a lie. I hate myself for being your doormat. I hate it worse than the rejection I got yesterday from Home Depot. And I hate it more than being a scientist with years of brilliant discoveries, elegant solutions, with scores of patents lining my walls. Overqualified, undervalued.

That’s me.

I care so much it woke me up tonight and made me walk outside to the barn.

When you stand at my grave, will you bow your head in a knowing fashion and say, “I knew he was fragile?”

Will you have regrets?

Or will you find another patsy to call your friend?

I’ll never send this, because it’s over. And like I said, I was raised better than that.

Sweet relief now rests in my grasp, ready to free me from the failures, but especially from you.

I snap the bristled rope in my hands, testing it to see if it will hold, and glance at the beam overhead. The swallows make unsettled noises in their nests. They probably wouldn’t hold up to your inspection either.


Okay, now let me explain. ;o)

At a recent “career conference” I took a seminar in communication entitled “The Three Deadly Sins: what not to do in a job interview.” It actually didn’t have all that much to do with job hunting, but it was a fascinating session where I bumped into dozens of past colleagues who like me, are still searching for work. It got me thinking about misinterpretations and misunderstandings, and somehow brought me to the idea of letting emotions enlarge to outlandish proportions, and using them to drive a plot.

I worried and wondered about some of the folks I met, especially those who seemed rather fragile. If I–a normally confident guy who had always seen the glass as half full–could be occasionally be reduced to someone who feels worthless during this difficult job hunting time–then what would happen to them? Armed with new intentions to stay in touch and help them along the way, my writer’s mind wandered in not-so-pleasant directions.

I pictured some without family or friends, and how hard it would be to stay upbeat if you were alone. I blended ideas of snippets heard at the conference. One fellow–a scientist–had mentioned being rejected for a job at Home Depot. My heart went out to him, because I’d just applied to Wegmans earlier that week.

Then I read S.W. Vaughn’s letter from her character, Gabriel. While it was tongue-in-cheek and totally delicious, it prompted me to want to write something in that format, especially after getting really ticked off at a guy who calls himself my friend.

I’ve also become enamored in recent times of the use of repetition in writing and played around with it a bit here.

This is what came out. Sometimes it’s fun to let your imagination run a bit rampant.

Will it turn into my next novel? I’m not sure.

(And don’t worry. I’m not holding a rope in my hands.)



Marta Stephens said...

OMG, Aaron. This is the BEST—the very BEST I've read from you. I absolutely love it! What person hasn't had a love/hate relationship with someone like this? Why do we continue to belittle ourselves for the sake of getting an ounce of approval from the self-serving, self-indulging idiots in our lives? You’ve given words to many here.

Absolutely emotions can drive the plot. Most don’t know this, but I was going through a particularly difficult personal time when I wrote my debut, Silenced Cry. The anger, pain, and feelings of betrayal managed to get on nearly every page. As much as I think my subsequent writings are acceptable, I sense they lack the fire that went into the writing of Silenced Cry. Harper’s emotions is what makes it.

Hang in there (ugh, bad choice of words) You know me. I truly believe there's a reason for everything. I definitely think you're on to something.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thank you, dear friend. :o)

And although I did exaggerate a lot (by not showing the good side of my "friend,"), and I let it turn into a suicide note, which is far from reality, it felt good to let those emotions out. Even though they weren't all "real", I can picture a book with this character writing to his friend, and the friend responding. Maybe a collection of essays or letters to and from, to reveal the true character of each? Hmmm. Could be a fun exercise. Thanks for your support!

s.w. vaughn said...

Absolutely fantastic, Aaron. Just WOW.


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I was close to tears, so sure it was a family member, family being so darn tough on us. Or is it us allowing ourselves to feel like nothing in front of them?

Great post, Aaron. Absolutely poignant and moving and self-changing.

Kim Smith said...

Wow. I am flabbergasted. I just wrote a two page mood piece as an opening to a new book and am seriously thinking of deleting it now. This is just awesome. When i grow up I want to be a writer like you!!!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Aww,thanks SW. Hugs right back. ;o)

Now, Kim. You stop that! (can you feel your hand getting slapped?) You keep on writing the delightful way only you can, and don't be distracted by my weird excursion into the land of suicide notes.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Joylene, thank you so much for your kind words. I guess these feelings are shared by many...

Sheila Deeth said...

Well, glad there's no rope. Very evocative though.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Superb writing.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, Sheila and Cher. ;o)