Saturday, May 14, 2016

Things to Do in the First Paragraph

The same creative writing teacher who explained how you were essentially an ironist because you wrote so-called "biter, bit" stories in which individuals often ran afoul of their own devices, also told you to shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph.

At the time, this seemed to make a great deal of sense, because you took the instruction literally, and got to the point where you could write first and second paragraphs which the instructor pronounced as dandy. 

Trouble was, most of your attempts at developing the narrative stopped right there. You either had a dead sheriff, which meant the shooter could expect to be visited by a posse of deputies, or a wounded sheriff who was left asking his assailant, "Why did you have to go and shoot me?"

The teacher made a point of bringing in some aspect of story he thought we ought to know every Monday, giving us the rest of the week to consider the implications. One Monday, when you were feeling as though you might never get the hang of writing stories and would have to become a poet instead, the instructor announced that major characters had to have a motive. 

Once again, you let took him at his word and thought you'd begun to see your way into the third and possibly even fourth paragraph of a story,  "I shot you," Murdoch said with a scowl, "because you kept on arresting me for things I never done."

At the time, the name Murdoch seemed menacing and evil, almost something Dickens might have named a menacing and evil character. In another class, you were beginning to read Dickens. But your creative writing teacher said Dickens' baddest characters of which he was aware was named Sykes, which you had to admit had the sound of a man who would shoot a sheriff or anyone else who got in his way.

The instructor also had words with you about your decision to have Murdoch scowl, which he didn't think necessary under the circumstances of Murdoch having shot the sheriff. No matter that you saw Murdoch as a person who scowled and smirked, the instructor said. You may have forgotten to mention that he liked puns. "Scowl and smirk are," he said, smiling, "what you could call overkill."

You became distracted by the sound of characters' names, starting tentative lists, which you eventually began keeping in some of the many blank notebooks you'd collected over the years for the expressed purpose of keeping track of things that made good stories. From those distant times, you now recall a character you named Gordon Smirke. 

There were a few friends with whom you'd share what you thought were imaginative and provocative names for characters. They all seemed to think your talent lay in funny names rather than menacing or intimidating names.

"What you want most of all," the instructor said, looking at your list of character names, "are persons who seem to live up to their names and find themselves in constant trouble because other characters won't let them forget what they are called."

Your instructor's name was Mr. Quick.

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