My Origin Story Part 3: Fits and Starts

Previously on My Origin Story:
I read a lot and ultimately was unsatisfied. Time to write again.

In the beginning of 4th grade, my mother and sisters and I moved from rural Minnesota to the big, dry city of Denver. The relocation seemed to make me write like a hundred monkeys. I wrote all the time, in fits and starts, on the flimsy brown paper of Big Chief notebooks, the white wide-ruled paper of Greenpeace notebooks, colored paper. Dozens of stories and story ideas in a few years time. But unlike those hundred monkeys, what I churned out was NOT Shakespeare.

Redundant, or just plain superfluous, adjectives:
“Slowly dragging,”
“ancient Model-T Ford,”
“the slurred, barely legible [I think I meant audible] stuttering language [of a drunk.]”
Can one drag any other way but slowly? Aren’t all Model-T’s ancient now? Wouldn’t slurred have been sufficient to convey drunkenness?

Reaching for similies and metaphors, and sometimes landing smack on my face:
“She had cheekbones as high as a kite on a windy day.”
[Of a beheaded woman] “Blood was running all down her front and sides like lava from a volcano.”

Reaching for more and better words, and sometimes falling smack on my face:
“Right now it seemed like all he had was Timmy, a constellation [consolation?], a substitute.”
“She could almost touch the destitution [I meant desolation] of this place.”
“She had signed a sort of lease to work there for a year.” [How about contract?]

Wishing I had tried more and better words:
A living room is “attractive.” A woman is “very beautiful.” “Camille had a nice appearance.”
Can you be a little more vague, Chris? We almost got an image there.

Some difficulties with construction:
Viewpoint – huh? What’s that? Starting a paragraph in Nicki’s point of view, in the middle switching to his sister’s. Then we’re in the mind of a 16-year-old street kid who just
happens to be passing by, then back to Nicki.
Backstory carefully blocked out in whole passages. Wait, let me stop here and explain. And then this happened, and then that happened. It seemed sensible at the time.

So where did the ideas come from? Grim? Violent? Melodramatic? Don’t get me started.
-Serial killer slaughters women, then makes them up to look like his dead love.
-A Cockney child is sold into prostitution, losing her doll on the way.
-A nuclear blast causes bloody deaths, then cannibalism.
-Newspaper reporter and her professor friend stay the night in a haunted house.
-Globetrotting newsman finds out the Egyptian tombs were really built by aliens.
-Haunted toy shop investigated by a hard-boiled detective.
-Young person wakes up after a hundred years’ cryogenic freeze to find a swastika on the hospital front – the Nazis have taken over. But the really cool part: in order to cure the cancer they’ve fitted him/her with bionics!
Was I watching too much television, or what?

On the upside, though, I managed an occasional description that didn’t suck:
“Nicki Calloway, at the wheel, sat in utter silence, the fingers of his left hand gripping an unlit cigarette.”
“She had a soft lacey voice, it rather sang.”

In an insane asylum … “I lay strapped to my bed and doused with white, silver bars encasing the bed.”

A few good lines, culled from hundreds of pages. It’s a good thing I didn’t think about the ratio at the time. I might have bagged it. I did learn a few things. Let ideas sit for a while before deciding if you want to turn them into stories.

And the other major thing–I was much better at starting stories than finishing them. They just kept growing into longer stories. Time to try writing novels.


Next up on My Origin Story: The Three Investigators and the Case of the Mary Sue.

This entry was posted in Description, My Origin Story, Plot, Viewpoint, Writing Craft and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My Origin Story Part 3: Fits and Starts

  1. “Slowly dragging” might not be redundant (technically speaking).
    An object can be dragged fast under various circumstances.
    A cowboy falls off his horse, his rope gets caught on the saddle and his steed drags the cowboy along the ground at full gallop.

    “ancient Model T Ford” = a hundred-year car is not even close the same league of antiquity as the Egyptian pyramids 😉
    “Antique” or “vintage” would be better, but even these are redundant descriptions for a Model T in a present-day setting.
    The opposite verb would spark readers’ interest, ie: “I just bought a brand-new Model T Ford.” (this would, of course, set your story sometime from 1908 to 1927)

    In my novel, when L shows J her first car, she describes it simply as a “1904 Curved-Dash Oldsmobile roadster.” The novel’s set in 2011. The car is 107 years old. No additional verbiage needed. 🙂


    • Chris Devlin says:

      Heh, Daven. You realize you’re critiqueing stuff I wrote almost 40 years ago? Talk about ancient!
      I guess it’s never too late to be critiqued. 😉


  2. I’ve been told I still use redundant or superfluous adjectives. The fact that you were even using adjectives at the time is remarkable, and it seems you had quite the vocabulary for such a little tyke.

    And wow, that’s some dark and gritty stuff for a fourth grader to be writing about. Plus, those few gems of lines you pulled out, would be striking even to read in critique group now. Seems like you were gifted from the start.


  3. Chris Devlin says:

    Gifted or “special”? It’s a fine line. 😉
    Yeah, the violence and darkness of the material would be a staple of my early writing–still is, as a matter of fact. Stay tuned for the McCracken’s Barn installment, when a social worker pays me a special visit because of the content of my story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s