Monday, June 12, 2006

How to Write a Love Story, Part I

I wrote this my senior year of college for an Advanced Creative Writing class, and I came across it again when cleaning out some files while I was home. It is very, very far from deep, original, or good, but I thought it might amuse you all to see it, as it proves I'm such an editorial dork that I can't even write fiction without talking about plot structure! This is part one of five.

1. Establish your characters.

He’d always enjoyed short stories -- Hemingway, Kipling, Ray Bradbury. And he’d written a little bit in college, though that was a long time ago. But Bill had to admit it: When he signed up for creative writing through the university’s extension program, he was doing it to meet women. And now that he had to produce a real story for tomorrow’s session … well, he wondered seriously if even Sarah was worth it.

Yeah, she was, he thought gloomily. Or would be, if he’d ever have the nerve to ask her out. But that was tomorrow’s problem; today, he had to focus on the story.

He sat down at his PC and considered Madame Markley’s instructions from the previous period. “Write what you know,” she said, “but make it new, make it different. If your characters are you they’re boring” – which he thought was a little harsh. “We know you. But if you can take some little spark of yourself and make it live in a character, something nobody knows about – ah!” She flung her arms wide to indicate epiphany. “Reveal yourself. Think about your emotions.”

Bill thought about Sarah. He’d noticed her for the first time when she wrote a story about a father and daughter attending a ball game at Wrigley Field. It was pretty good – not perfect, but definitely something there – and he stopped by her desk after class to tell her so. She raised her heart-shaped face, usually hidden by a mass of honey-brown hair, and he was immediately aware of her youth (though he’d later learned she was twenty-eight), her beauty, his own thinning pate. “I enjoyed your story,” he said without stammering. “You a Cubbies fan?”

“Cards,” she said cheerfully. “Remember? The Cubs lost.”

For a moment he was taken aback, then he grinned. “That’s right,” he said. “The birds got lucky in the eighth. Well, everything except that – I enjoyed your story.”

“Thanks.” She returned the smile, then her hair curtained her face again as she bent to pick up a pen beneath her desk. Bill shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. She was digging for something in her purse -- her car keys? He couldn't tell. He felt like an idiot just standing there.

"Well," he said, "see you next class."

A flash of surprised polite smile -- she'd forgotten him. "Yes," she said. "Next Sunday."

But miracle of miracles, that next Sunday she'd taken the desk by his; and the miracle happened again the Sunday after that. He found out that her story was based on a real trip to Wrigley when she was ten; that she lived in an apartment complex on the edge of town; that she taught third grade and had an older sister named Annie; that she’d written half of a novel and four kids’ books, none of which had been published. Bill told her about his own experiences at Wrigley and Busch, his job as a technical writer, the time he and his sister Lisa ran away to Chicago (he had been seven, Lisa five, and they only made it two miles down the highway before the cops picked them up). He made jokes and didn't think he bored her. Still, each time he nearly got up the nerve to ask her for coffee, an uneasy silence fell into the conversation or she turned away to get something, her hair as implacable and thick as a wall between them.

Now the story rotation had come round to his group, the last, and what better part of his character to reveal than his deep-down lonelyhearts, his inborn romantic? He would write a love story.

A love story. Bill cracked his knuckles to warm them up and thought about the people he wanted. The guy first. Jack, he’d call him. Jack traveled a lot, because he was in sales. Computers – software mostly, with the occasional peripheral. Jack was Catholic and thirty-four, like Bill. He liked the Bulls and the Raiders, also like Bill. He drank hard liquor and slept with fast women. No. He drank Rolling Rock and waited until the second or third date. Better. Jack was – Bill squinted at his computer screen – blond, with a full head of hair. He exercised regularly. He was a good guy. Bill typed this out quickly before he forgot it.

And his female character -- Rita. Did people still name their daughters Rita? he wondered. It was a name he’d always liked, a fiesta in four letters. Rita was in her early thirties, petite, a computer programmer. She got her CS degree from the U and now worked for a medical software company – CompuMed, though she was bored and wanted to move elsewhere. She enjoyed hiking and rock music and ballroom dancing: and she grew, smart-mouthed and dark-haired, in his mind. Neither Jack nor Rita had ever been married. He lived downtown and liked Stanley Kubrick movies. She was out by the river and preferred Woody Allen. (Bill also preferred Woody Allen, but he’d take Scorsese over anyone else.) They both rooted for the Cubs -- hopeless romantics, for sure.


  1. Post the rest! I'm dying here!

    *is clearly a hopeless sap*

  2. LOL, I checked back today, hoping to find more . . . I'm hooked. I MUST know what happens next. :-)