There’s a certain story device that has always bothered me.
You’ll see it in the scene where the hero is walking along and the car/van pulls up beside them and points a gun at them and they get in the car. This is a terrible story device (unless your main character is an idiot). I always want to scream at the TV/movie screen/book whenever it comes up (which it does a lot) “don’t do it, you idiot!”
It’s never a good device. Here’s why:
If you’re being kidnapped by a stranger, than you’re an effing idiot to get in the car if someone points a gun at you. What exactly do you think the plan is exactly? Take you to the spa for a little quiet time away from the dog-eat-dog world we live in? No, they’re going to kill you, or worse (especially if you’re a woman) – and they’re going to do it in the private spot of their choosing, and then they’re going to dispose of your body where no one will ever find it.
I say, if you’re going to shoot me, do it right there in the damn street, where there will be evidence, and (hopefully) witnesses and the cops will be on your ass within the hour. At the very least, my mom will know I was shot and left for dead and won’t lay awake at nights wondering why I disappeared or where I am. (Not that I ever hope to be shot, mind you, I’m just saying – if I HAVE to be shot, I’d rather it be in a public place.)
I can almost understand this device in political thrillers – where the hero knows that there are larger issues at stake. I seem to remember a scene where someone is kidnapped by a dignitary or something, so the hero knew who it was. In that case, you (as the writer) shouldn’t even need to bring a gun into it. If you (the writer) have done your job in setting up the stakes, the gun is unnecessary – the whole world will die if he/she doesn’t get in that car.
So you see, there’s no good reason to use this device of the gun coming out of the car/van window and forcing someone to get in. Unless, of course, your hero isn’t too bright. I guess that would be a valid reason. But if that’s the case, the rest of your story better pretty damn entertaining (“The Man Who Knew Too Little” comes to mind – I love that film).
And don’t even get me started on the scene where the poor sap is digging his own grave at gun point (I’m looking at you “24″). If anyone ever tells me to dig a hole so they can shoot me and bury me in it, I plan on giving them the finger and letting do their own dirty work.
Consider this my Monday public service announcement for all you writers out there.
Have you ever had the experience of talking with someone on the phone, and you both try to talk at once, and then you both stop to let the other one talk, and then there’s a weird pause before you both say “sorry, you go,” and things continue on like this for the duration of the call, to the point that you never feel like you hit a groove talking with that person, and after hanging up, you feel kind of wrong?
You were probably talking to me.
I hate the phone. Something about not being able to see a person’s face causes me to miss ever single stupid little cue as to when I’m supposed to talk, and when I’m supposed to shut up. My girlfriends all keep in touch with each other via phone, having long phone conversations about their lives, but the ones who have known me the longest don’t call – they know I’m a total spaz on the phone and that if they want to keep in touch they really have to either come visit or write me an email (surprise, I’m best at written correspondence).
So when I have freelance assignments that require me to do a lot of phone interviews I tend to procrastinate. I have a job right now that is actually really interesting. I get to talk to a bunch of city officials about their work and compile it all into a narrative article, but getting over my aversion to phone actually took some serious emotional bolstering. Picture me chanting “you are not a spaz,” a few times before dialing.
Of course, this is not the first project I’ve ever had to do interviews for, so I am getting better. I’ve learned to state my questions clearly, then just shut up and wait for an answer. I squash the urge to jump in and explain myself further if they haven’t answered in two seconds, and to just be patient, and let them speak. I am friendly and don’t waste their time with a lot of chatter, and ultimately, the feedback I’ve gotten from clients has been good, but it’s a battle every time.
Why on Earth has the transporter not been invented yet? Seriously, it’s the 21st century. I would gladly change out of my pajamas and do my makeup to pop on up to San Francisco for an interview, if it could be done Star Trek style: Beam Me Up. Sure, there’s a lot of potential for disaster–my molecules being scattered to the atmosphere, or whatnot–but at least I wouldn’t have to talk on the damn phone.
Words can be powerful things. They can also amount to a sneeze – possibly infectious, but ultimately forgotten in a minute.
This is where my frustration with writing comes in.
Let me back up. A few months ago I got a bullsh*t parking ticket. It said I was parked on some street I never heard of (that apparently has a 2 hour limit), when in fact, at the time, my car was in front of my house. I called to protest the ticket, and they guy took down my complaint as “not parked in 2 hour limit spot.” So the powers that be reviewed my case and determined that where I was supposedly parked was in fact a 2 hour limit and the ticket stood. Rather than take half a day to go downtown and contest it in person I just paid the damn thing and moved on.
Then, last month I got another ticket for parking in a two hour spot. I was there for 20 minutes. Long enough to park, walk down the hill, get an ice cream with my daughter and walk back. So again I called to contest. I made sure they repeated what they wrote as my reason for objecting to the fine before hanging up, and then, two days later, I got a letter saying “On the basis of your ‘statement of facts’ there is insufficient evidence to dismiss your citation.” I called again to ask how they came to this conclusion (and so quickly!) and the woman said she didn’t know, but that I could bring whatever evidence I have to a hearing and protest in person.
Evidence. Right. Like I kept a receipt for the ice cream I had a month ago. And even if I did, it wouldn’t prove how long I was parked in that spot. I would have had to take a photo of my car, with my watch (if I owned one) in the image as I left the car and then again when I returned, just IN CASE I got a ticket. I totally have time for that kind of thing.
Anyway. I was curious, so I googled “bogus parking ticket Los Angeles,” and found this article
Now, I’ll admit, it isn’t the most moving of articles. It’s not even very well written. Perhaps this is why the words are so sneeze-like, evaporating as soon as they hit the internet. Or maybe it’s that we’re all so tired of dealing with government bs that we just pay the bogus tickets and move on (like I did the first time), considering it a donation to our distressed municipal coffers.For whatever reason, those words affected NO change whatsoever. Aaaa-chooooo.
It seems to me the city is likely making a fortune on these tickets. It’s hard not to think that maybe if I wrote something about this–if I investigated a little and shared my findings–that I could bring down this vile injustice. Of course, I might also waste a week of my valuable time and end up with an expose that no one wants to publish.
Until they, too, get a bullsh*t parking ticket (or two).
One of my (cooler) clients asked me, hypothetically, if they were to hire me on as an employee, what would I be looking to make as a salary.
For a simple question, it had my head in a bit of bind. I love working freelance, for the schedule flexibility, and the different types of projects that teach me all kinds of new things (I’ve learned a whole lot about golf in the last three weeks – I’ll probably never use this information, but it’s still always fun to learn new things). The downsides are no great mystery: irregular pay, no job security, no health insurance.
As I was contemplating the pros and cons of “real” employment, it suddenly occurred to me – this is my day job. I feel super blessed to get to write to pay the bills, but the ultimate goal is to be a novelist. If I’m going to waste time and energy worrying about something, it shouldn’t be the day job. Day jobs are for doing (and doing well), and then putting aside so you can work on the thing that you love. And I love writing fiction.
Because so few writers actually get to call themselves professional novelists, I’ve always assumed that I would have to do something else to pay the bills, but shouldn’t the ultimate goal be to just work on my novels? I know the odds are slim that my first novel makes me rich, rich, rich. But it’s silly to shoot for a goal so low as “finish my novel.” Odds be damned, I’m setting a goal of writing a damn good story – something that will get my foot in the door as a respected writer and then pry that door open far enough to let a sizable chunk of money fall through.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the day job is freelance or a salaried position. It’s a day job. Every hour I spend on it should remind me that I need to get back to my novel.
I‘m very excited to announce that an article I wrote about my uncles went live today on the BETA Magazine website
For the word nerds – serodiscordant is a fairly new term describing a relationship wherein one person has HIV/AIDS and the other does not. My uncles have been in their serodiscordant relationship since before the term existed. It was a real treat to sit down with them and hear the details of their story.
When Terry was first diagnosed, I was young and nobody spoke much about it. It was still so taboo. By the time I was old enough to know about HIV/AIDS, Terry’s infection was old news, and there just never seemed to be a good time to ask the question: “so… do you guys still have sex, or what?”
Thankfully, in my line of work, I get paid to be nosey.
Check it out (here
Finally, thank you to all the family and friends who have sent well wishes for Daniel’s recovery. We got to see an x-ray of his spine today. Check this baby out:
Those white things are the screws in my guy’s spine. Burly.
He was having a hard time getting comfortable in bed, so this morning we invested in a recliner. So he’s still laid up, but he’s doing it in style, the doc told him to keep the narcotics coming, and the Euro Cup, or something, is playing soccer non-stop (or so it seems) – so he’s doing just fine.