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Posts Tagged ‘dating’

January is a doomed month. Cold and miserly and strangely stunted for a month with thirty-one days. That’s not what dooms it, of course. Its downfall is that it’s destined to be a month of beginnings. Sure, we like beginnings. We glorify them as great things, but ultimately, we start so many more things than we ever finish, that it hardly matters where or when a thing starts. And when something fails, either with a whimper or a catastropher, its starting point looks a lot less glorious. That’s what taints January.

After all, up to 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Something like 60% of all new restaurants fail within a year. Diets crash and burn on a near weekly basis. The new job turns into a suckfest, and the new marriage sours three years in.

I know there’s this huge pressure, both internal and external, to make big changes in the new year. This is the year you’re going to find an agent! This is the year you’re going to apply for better jobs! You’re gonna lose that weight! Sell that screenplay! Go back to school! Meet someone special! Learn Chinese!

Cat on a diving board.

Which is cool, but right now, I’m gonna offer you a reprieve. Right now, I’m saying, it’s okay not to start something new this week. Today doesn’t have to be the first day of the rest of your life. It’s okay if you don’t send out query letters today or sign up for that dating website or do PX30. I’m giving you permission to wait. I’m telling you that it’s okay to feel wobbly and unsure this week. If you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed by being back at work today, I understand. You don’t have to go off the big board into the deep end. You can just get into the pool from the steps in the shallow end. It won’t matter if you didn’t start today, as long as you finish.

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I’m in the midst of working on a revision of Thirteen for an agent, which has left me with a few blanks that need filling in. This is a scene I wrote over the weekend to try to fill one of those gaps.

***

I closed the door in Renee’s face, but she opened it back up. We glared at each until she said, “You’re a coward, Wavy Quinn.”

In sixth grade I was too old to fall for that trick. I was still too old. I flipped her off and reached for the door knob, but Renee held her ground.

“You say you’re done with Kellen, but then you’re not even brave enough to go on a date with anyone else. And you can pretend that you’re not ready or whatever, but the truth is, you’re not brave enough.” She said it all in a low voice, so I knew Joshua was still in the front room, waiting for me to go on a date I was sure I’d never agreed to.

“Pot calling kettle,” I said.

“That is such bullshit. Show me one time I was a coward about love.”

She thought she was bulletproof. She thought recklessness was the same thing as bravery. I stepped past her into the hall and walked toward the kitchen. Renee came after me.

In the front room, we passed Joshua, who looked confused. Not a Kellen kind of confused, where he was always worried he’d misunderstood or done or said something wrong. A pretty college boy kind of confused, where he thought someone else had made a mistake.

I stopped in front of the fridge and Renee was under such a head of steam that she bumped into my back when I did.

“You can’t just walk away from this. You can’t spend your whole life pining for someone who doesn’t even want you.”

I ignored that. It wasn’t anything I could bear to think about.

The napkin with Darrin’s phone number was right where Renee had put it. At the party, she took it from him with a smile and said, “Yeah, I’d love to go out.” Two weeks later it was still stuck to the fridge. She hadn’t called him. He wasn’t her type. He was a custodian and he wasn’t pretty. Not like Joshua. The other reason he wasn’t her type: he was too nice. Not enough drama. Not enough heartbreak.

I jerked the napkin off the fridge, sending the magnet flying. When I pinned the napkin to Renee’s chest with my forefinger, she made a surprised little O with her mouth.

“Coward,” I said.

She smirked.

“Fine. You go out with Joshua and I’ll call Darrin. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“And you have to try, Wavy. You can’t just sit there like stone until he gives up. You have to try like it’s a real date or it doesn’t count.” Renee knew me.

I passed Joshua on the way back to my room to get my purse.

“Is there a problem?” he said.

I didn’t bother to answer. He was the problem. I’d be done with him soon enough. I came back with my purse and stood in front of him. He was going to have take me as I was, in the clothes I wore to work and with my hair a little greasy.

“Ready,” I said.

We walked out past Renee, who gave me a suspicious look. She could suspect whatever she wanted, as long as she kept her half of the deal.

 

***

While Joshua drove, I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. Renee said he was “gorgeous.” She talked about him like he was a statue. David standing naked in a museum in Italy. I thought he was boring. Like a mannequin in a store. Better to look at a blank wall than to look at him. I also didn’t understand why he didn’t shave. Everything else about him was neat — hair, hands, clothes–and then the whiskers.

He took me to a nice restaurant, I guess because that’s what people do on dates. I’d taken Kellen to a restaurant before, but it was how I knew we were here on the strength of Joshua’s ego. I never would have agreed to go out to eat with someone who was basically a stranger. Never.

But there I was, sitting across from him, with a menu open, watching him talk. That was how it felt, too. A silent movie, his mouth opening and closing, his teeth neat and white, but no sound coming out. I could only focus on some of the things he said. The rest of me was too busy cataloging the ways in which he wasn’t Kellen.

“So, what are you thinking of having?” Joshua said.

“I’m not that hungry.”

He laughed. “Girls always say that.”

I could imagine Renee saying that. On dates, she ordered salads and then came home starving and ate a whole pizza by herself.

At least I liked the restaurant. Aunt Brenda had taken me there before. They had good teriyaki chicken with ginger and pineapple, and they put your leftovers in nice to-go containers. Not crappy Styrofoam boxes. They made it pretty when you took it away.

After I closed my menu the waiter came. I gave him my big smile, to make him pay attention, so that he would look at my menu when I tapped it. You really don’t have to talk much in everyday life. If you’re careful, if you learn the tricks to make people watch. That way you can save your words for important things. Sometimes just “yes” or “no.” Or “ranch” when the waiter wants to know what dressing I want on my salad. Which I didn’t want. I shook my head.

“No dressing?” the waiter said.

Then Joshua ordered and the waiter left us alone.

“So, Wavy,” Joshua said. His teeth really were perfect. He probably had braces when he was younger. “I think your name is so cool. Kind of hippy, but not like Moon Unit or something like that.”

It was a good thing I didn’t talk much, because what was I supposed to say to that? I’m glad you like my name. The man I love gave it to me. That probably wasn’t good date conversation. That was just me being impossible. Aunt Brenda said that about me. So did Renee some days. You’re impossible! I agreed. Most days I was impossible. Like a unicorn.

 

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I’m dating again, which is scary. And funny. And a good exercise in thinking about character motivation. On various dates, I find myself thinking of the guy across the table from me as someone else’s invention, a fictional character. It makes me wonder a little about what would be the dating habits of my own characters, if they were real.

In fact, the compliment I treasure most about my writing is anytime a reader says, “Your characters are so real.”  It makes me happy, because they are real to me, so if my writing manages to make them real to other people … well, madness loves company.

One question that comes up frequently on writing forums is about making characters more real. People ask about how to create characters, how to make characters three dimensional, how to develop characters, but the real question hiding under those is “How do I make my characters seem real?”

The popular answer is, “Here’s the list of questions that will help you discover who your character is.” The list contains dozens (and in some cases hundreds) of random questions that the would-be writer is supposed to answer. Favorite color, most embarrassing moment, favorite food, hair color. Implied is the suggestion that in answering all these questions, the writer will discover the character, and the character will therefore be full-fleshed on the page.

I don’t think it works. With all due respect for those writers who use this method successfully, I think most writers who are struggling with how to make their characters seem real will not succeed with this method.

Awkward! First vampire date

It doesn’t work for the same reason online dating can be so tricky. A man can write up a very thorough list of his likes and dislikes, highlights of his life, but it may tell you nothing about how he’ll behave in any given situation. In any scene, it doesn’t matter what the character eats for breakfast, or what kind of car he drives, or which of his parents he loved best. It doesn’t. The only thing that matters is: “What does the character want?” Right now.

Put the character in any given scene and your task is not to make him/her seem real, but to figure out what the character wants, why he/she wants that, what the character is willing to do to get that, and how he/she approaches getting the desired outcome.

In the course of doing that, you should be able to figure out what sort of person your character is. And from real life, you can often reverse-engineer from behavior to motivation.

For an example, I proffer two dates.

DateOne has a very bland profile, proclaiming himself to be “a good guy.” He owns his own business and is interested in movies, motorcycles, and dogs. I go on the date with low expectations. I have to start somewhere, don’t I? So…what’s his motivation? He wants to have fun, he wants me to like him, and he’d like to make out with me in hopes of scoring during a later date.  How does he go about accomplishing these goals? He tries to be funny. He figures out that I like stories so he tells me stories. Crazy, reckless stories, where he occasionally pulls the trigger on the punch line too soon in his hurry to get to the funny parts. He listens to my stories. He compliments me in nice but slightly alarming and sexually suggestive ways.  But he draws the line at having to pretend to be something he isn’t, so he doesn’t try to dazzle me or bullshit me, and he doesn’t “clean up his act” for that first date. There is no “best behavior.” He opens doors for me, but makes fun of my hair and eats food off my plate without asking. What he has to offer on the first date, that’s what he will have to offer on the tenth date.

End result of DateOne: in the first 10 minutes, he tells me I have “nice cans.” Then he makes me laugh hysterically for the next six hours as we meander all over town, until I take him back to my place. At 2 in the morning, I’m still having so much fun he kind of has to pry me off so he can leave.

DateTwo has a profile that declares him to be “a bit of a bad boy,” with interests in motocross, skydiving, and literature. He’s also a small business owner. Not surprisingly, he wants me to like him and probably has an eye on getting lucky on some future date. See how they start with the same motivation? It’s generally safe to assume that lots of people go into a first date with the same motivations, so the question is how they approach getting what they want. DateTwo thinks the trick is to impress me.  He wants me to know that he’s smart, rich, successful, handsome, desirable. He dresses up. He exfoliates. He takes me to a very expensive restaurant and orders wine to show me he knows about wine. He tells me about the book he’s currently reading. He tells me all about his business, so that I’ll know it’s successful. He smiles in this particular way that shows off his dimples.

End result of DateTwo: this is what I think of as a “nap date.” I rouse myself mid-meal from a half-stupor and realize I’ve lost an hour of my life and he’s still talking about his eco-friendly construction business and his favorite charities. After dinner, which he insists on paying for with his American Express card, we take a few polite turns around downtown. He walks me to my truck, I shake his hand. The date is over in less than two hours.

On paper, or the computer screen as it were, DateTwo and I have many more common interests than DateOne and I. We like a lot of the same movies, books, and music. We’re both interested in the environment and similar political issues. DateOne isn’t even registered to vote and his idea of recycling is selling used motorcycle parts.

So two men enter the dating arena with the same motivations, but markedly different approaches. We learn volumes about them from that approach, not from knowing their favorite food or color. As for the reasons they fail or succeed, well, that’s all about me as a character. My favorite food is tomatoes and my favorite color is black.

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