15 July 2009

"Jen and Danielle"

When I returned to writing fiction recently, it was the first time since I took a creative writing class in college. That class was in the Spring 2003 semester, so it's been quite a while. I should like to think that I have improved significantly as a writer since that time, though in truth most of that would likely be more apparent in my non-fiction works. Anyway, "Jen and Danielle" is a piece I composed for that course six years ago and while perusing my hard drive I came across a folder of those writing exercises. This was initially three separate tasks; the first was to introduce the characters; the second, their conflict and the third, a resolution. I introduced the conflict a bit early, a gaffe for which I was docked some points, but I think that it serves the complete story somewhat. Hopefully, it will not read as obviously three individual pieces, but rather as a comprehensive, singular story.

Now, then, what of the story? The titular Jen and Danielle are young adults sharing an apartment. Jen is in school and, when we meet her, working on a paper about one of Claude Monet's paintings, "San Giorgio Maggiore Soleil Couchant." (You might not recognize it by title, but it's the piece that Pierce Brosnan steals in The Thomas Crown Affair remake of 1999.) Danielle, who is certainly less mature (if not younger) than her girlfriend, feels ignored and becomes frustrated. Logically, of course, we know that she should grow up and let Jen work on her mandatory assignment; and yet, I think there's a part of us that identifies with Danielle. There comes a point where we feel like we've put ourselves on hold for one thing after another, and we're no longer convinced that everything should be more important than ourselves. I would say I side with Jen, but I empathize with Danielle.

After having recently written "Dirty Laundry," it may seem excessive to now publish a second story featuring gay characters. I'd like to address this point. Firstly, remember that this was written six years ago, so it's not as if gay characters are dominating my state of mind as a writer today. I simply thought this was worthy of putting out there as a bit of filler until I write a new piece.

As I said in my commentary on "Dirty Laundry," sexuality is just one facet of a person's identity and while I am, at times, fascinated by that dynamic, I have long prided myself on my ability to look beyond it and see the whole person. The fact that Jen and Danielle are lesbians is entirely irrelevant to their story, save for the fact that it is the reason to have two female characters in the role of conflicted lovers.

Why did I choose this dynamic to explore in writing? Simply, I find women fascinating and I enjoy writing them as characters. Generally speaking, they are better communicators than men and, because I'm lazy, I enjoy being able to write characters that can believably come out with what they're thinking and feeling to one another. Writing emotional men is more challenging because you can't have a particularly masculine character say things like, "How do you think that makes me feel" in the middle of an argument and not make it laughable. I got away with it with Jimmy in "Dirty Laundry" because that's the kind of person he is as a character, and I established that from the beginning; otherwise, it is just plain easier for me as a writer to explore emotional vulnerability with female characters. Since my assignment was to explore the conflict between two lovers, I thought it would be easier to get to each person's side if they were both women. I was right, at least about this particular story.

Where did I get the names, you might wonder, and why do none of my characters ever seem to have last names? Well, this is one instance where I borrowed names from people I knew. To the best of my knowledge, they never had a relationship (they may have never even known one another, and one of the two, so far as I know, is entirely straight). But, as I indicated, I am lazy and that permeates my writing as well. So, when I needed two young women characters to have names, I stole theirs. It could easily have been two former classmates or coworkers instead, only that I had been to where both of these particular young women worked the day before I set about writing these three pieces. I don't believe I ever told them, and I hope they don't mind.

Why no last names? I don't know. Maybe it's the lazy thing. Maybe I just don't think that last names are entirely relevant to the stories I'm telling. I think once you add a last name, you add a layer of definition to a character. If I were telling full-length stories the characters would need that fuller identity. As it is, so far I have only composed short stories (really just glorified vignettes) and I think it services the nature of these stories to reduce the characters to just their first names. Whenever I've gone to parties and been introduced to people, it seems they always share their first name and rarely anything else. Sometimes all I've been given is a nickname, so if I wanted to inquire about the person afterwards, I would have to trust that the host would know how to put me back in touch with that person.

Similarly, I think the nature of the stories I tell are really just introductions to the people about whom I write. I like to believe that if you caught Shelly, Jimmy or Jen on a different day they'd have told you an entirely different story about themselves. These are just the stories that were on their minds when you met them, and so when you leave them you have gained an insight into who they are--but only a glimpse, really. I like the idea of these stories being mere introductions to people you may never meet again; all I hope is that, when you've finished meeting them, that they interest you enough that you might want to meet them another time later.

Read about Jen and Danielle here.

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