In my last post I briefly mentioned that I wanted to do some writing exercises to prepare for Camp NaNoWriMo.
I’ve come up with my own goals, not really going off of anything particular that I’ve read before. What I want is simple: to have a better understanding of my characters. And for the first time in a really long time I have let my characters develop for me, rather than forcing them to be something else.
The writing exercise is simple. Tell a story from the point of view of each primary character. It could be a love story (the first one I did), an embarrassing story from their past, the day they met their best friend, or discovered a passion for a hobby. It could literally be anything. Get inspired by something throughout the day and just write about it!
This exercise has given me so much freedom and excitement to discover my characters. Already, my outline has changed for the better because of this. New characters cropped up, and my existing ones showed off their personalities a bit.
My only restriction is that I don’t want these stories to be longer than 2000 words – so I don’t end up writing a novel not pertaining to my current novel. If the characters demand more attention, I am more than willing to listen to them though…one day.
Last night I completed my first exercise. The characters were Mary and Adam, who are the parents to the protagonist Ben. This is the story of how they met:
It was the first day of summer.
I could feel the electric energy of my fellow classmates as everyone rushed down the steps and to the school parking lot. The last day was always a half day, and was filled with more celebration than anything else.
“Mary!” A voice called from behind me.
Just as I turned around my best friend, Allie, launched herself at me. I almost toppled over, but hugged her back just as fiercely. Her long blond hair was cascading around me as she bounced back to the ground.
“We’re seniors now girly girl.” She flashed a smile, her perfect teeth nearly blinding in the bright sunlight.
Our arms were slung over each other’s shoulders as we walked, steps matching, to my car. There were kids darting everywhere, randomly grouped together, talking loudly.
Someone raced out of the building as the art teacher, Mr. Edmonds, shouted behind him. The teacher’s face looked as if someone had smacked a pie against it. There was a roar of laughter as nearly the whole school turned to stare at him. The subject of his admonishing disappeared amongst the cars.
“Hi Mary.” A now-junior girl popped up next to me. “Wanna sign my yearbook?”
I heard a small snort beside me. “Sure Nancy! Doing anything cool over the summer?” I fished my yearbook out of my bag and exchanged it for hers. I flipped it open to the front. Only a few had signed it and two of them were teachers.
“Oh, just reading. We have the list that Ms. Knowles put out for what we need to have finished by August. And I got a job over at the craft store.” She had finished signing and was fidgeting with her hair. I had always felt a little protective of Nancy. She was smart but quiet and it garnered her some negative attention at times. She kept to herself a little too much for the liking of everyone else, but it never bothered me.
I couldn’t help but acknowledge the fact that I was her sole savior in the social hell of high school. We had been on the newspaper staff together since middle school and I had protected her from bullying. She was easy to talk to, and actually quite pretty but always hid with her head tucked down around other people.
“Cool, I’ll have to come visit you over there.” We exchanged yearbooks again. She grinned at me, wished me a good summer and walked away.
“I have no idea why you talk to her.” Allie had never liked Nancy. Part of me thought it was jealousy because Nancy and I spent so much time together on the newspaper staff. Allie could be like that.
“You know why. She’s nice.”
“Yea, but she’s…Nancy.” She said it like Nancy was a disease.
I rolled my eyes, purposely making sure Allie saw. “So. What’s our first order of business as seniors?” It still felt strange to say. Even more so that this time next year we would be high school graduates. A small wave of dread washed over me. It was so close and I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to do with my life.
“Everyone’s going to Hardees! We could go to the pool after and then head to Stacy’s party.” Stacy was our captain of the Terrance Terrier’s cheerleading team, a title that also carried the responsibility of throwing the end-of-the-year party. If it were any other person, Allie and I would be stuck helping her prep for the party as her co-captains. Stacy’s controlling behavior wouldn’t permit that.
“Sounds good to me.” We jumped into my car, Allie repositioning herself so her short skirt didn’t ride up too high in the car. Her hand instantly went to the radio and turned the music up. We rolled down the windows, blaring the music to those nearby. Cat calls whooped from a group of football players clamoring around a jeep. John, Stacy’s boyfriend, had brought booze and the students brazenly cracked open the cans. He no doubt was told by Stacy to get the boy’s buzzed in preparation for her party.
Allie and I started singing and dancing as we waiting in the line of cars exiting the parking lot. We giggled at each other when we forgot the lines, making them up as we went.
Song after song, even on the ones neither of us had heard before, Allie and I belted them out like we were on stage. She had grabbed her foldout hairbrush from her purse and was singing into it, randomly passing it to me to join in.
We drove out of the parking lot and around the school. I couldn’t help but feel a tiny sense of remorse as we left our junior year behind. In the rear view mirror, our school looked small and quaint, dust kicking up from the gravel lot.
There was a train of student’s cars heading to Hardees, another tradition in our small town. After every football game, and on the last day of school, rain or shine, everyone piled in for burgers and milkshakes. To accommodate half the high school showing up so often, the fast-food restaurant had a surplus of picnic tables behind the building in the shade. It also served to keep the raucous noise to a minimum inside.
It was a short drive there, made even shorter by the concert in the front seat of my car. Allie jumped out as soon as I put the car in park. A dozen or so people beat us there, and the parking lot was filling up fast.
The other cheerleaders pulled us in line inside and we all touted off our orders. The smell of grease was strong, having permanently bonded with the air long ago. It made me feel like I couldn’t breathe, but this Hardee’s was also the feeling of my youth.
I turned around and Allie was gone, talking to two boys on the other side of the room.
Of course. It didn’t take long for her to ferret out a potential hunk.
There were two of them and they were strangely unfamiliar. That didn’t happen often in our town.
I picked up our food and walked over to her. She grabbed at me as I neared, almost yanking the food out of my arms.
“Mary! I have someone I want you to meet.” She gestured to the boy on the left who was about the same height as me, with platinum blond hair like Allie. “This is my cousin Ethan.” Turning, she added, “and this is his best friend Adam. I was just telling them about you.”
I smiled and said hello. I tried not to look for too long at the other boy – I didn’t want Allie teasing me later. His skin was slightly darker than mine, a nice even glow. You could tell he was out in the sun a lot. His hair was dark, and already he had a masculine line to his jaw, rare for boys our age.
“Hi.” Adam said. “We’re gonna go grab our food. We’ll meet you guys out back?”
They parted ways. Allie let out a tiny squeal. “You two should totally hook up.” She was gaping at him as he walked away. Allie could be such a guy sometimes.
“Yeah yeah. Here’s your chicken nuggets.” I pushed the bag at her, sipping my milkshake.
Allie was always trying to get me to “hook up” with someone. She loved playing matchmaker. I managed to only go on a few dates that she had coordinated, but she still teased me endlessly about boys.
She was a serial-dater, ever since fourth grade when she kissed Little Timmy on the playground. She got bit by the bug. I guess I was a little shy. Especially compared to her.
We took a seat outside on top of the tables. The weather was surprisingly mild, especially in the shade. The picnic tables were already loud with excitement. I popped the top off my milkshake and dipped a fry into it, my own little tradition.
“You’re so gross.” This was always Allie’s response to my fry-shake.
A group of cheerleaders and a few football players joined us. We talked loudly about the senior’s prank the week before, about Stacy’s party, complaints about a change in the length of the girls cheer skirts. We were smiling and laughing so much my cheeks hurt.
The excitement of the day had all of us in good spirits. Even the air felt different – lighter somehow.
We all finished our food about the time John and his friends showed up with their booze. Beer cans were thrown around the picnic tables at most of the guys as John’s crowd blended with ours.
The sun had started to set already. Allie and I hadn’t planned to stay so long – she wanted to work on her tan no doubt – but we were having too much fun to leave.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Adam. He stood there for a moment, a nervous look in his eye.
Suddenly aware of the look of surprise on my face, I tried to quickly recovered. “Hey.”
So much for recovery. That was the best I could do?
He gave a half smile, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
“Sorry,” he started, “we were planning on joining you, but Ethan ran into some old friends.”
“It’s no worries.” I didn’t want to tell him I had forgotten about him. Momentarily at least.
Looking at him again so closely it was a wonder I had.
He seemed a few years older than me, stubble growing on his face like he hadn’t shaved that day. I noticed for the first time that he was actually a full head taller than me. It made me feel small. But in a good way, like he could protect me.
I felt a small flush to my cheeks, as if he could hear my thoughts.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” He seemed slightly uneasy.
We walked a little further away from the picnic tables. Glancing back, I saw Allie give me a quick wink and a wide smile as she saw me leaving.
Mid-step, he whirled around to stand directly in front of me. “Would you go with me?”
I stared up at him. Go with him? Could he really mean that? We had only just met.
“Would you go on a date with me I mean.” He seemed to surprise himself, trying to catch up to his words.
“Umm,” my mind was thinking a little too fast. I was suddenly aware of nothing but him. He had stopped even closer to me than he was before. He smelled like expensive cologne. Just a hint of it, but certainly nothing anyone around here wore. It made him seem like an exotic creature.
I could almost feel a tendril of his embarrassment reach me. The way he shifted and diverted his eyes, searching for a getaway.
“Yes!” I blurted, a little loudly.
An exhilarated feeling overcame me. “Yes.” I said, with more control this time. I could feel the smile creeping up on my face.
It took a moment to sink in, but he looked down at me with his half-smile. His eyes were perfectly illuminated by the setting sun. They were green, with a light ring of brown by the pupils. They were beautiful.
It was the first day of summer.
The day I met the man I would one day marry.
The same man I would one day kill.