Way back when I was in grad school, I decided for myself that it was important for my characters to have a recognizable and unique voice for the story to be “successful.” True, some of my characters obviously sounded like me in diction and dialect, but many did not. I did manage to fool one of my classes (we had anonymous story reviews, in which the author was unknown to the group at large) into thinking a man had written a story about Vietnam based upon nothing more than the strength and quality of the voice I had crafted. It is my forte, I guess…or, rather, I like to think.
The unfortunate side-effect of this truth is the fact that I often present my stories in first person p.o.v. It is a challenge for me to pull off 3rd person successfully, in my opinion, and this pet project, Church of the Palomino, is my own exercise in trying that more omniscient perspective. A problem I am having, though (as is evident by my failure to continue posting regularly here), is getting my character, Shannon, right.
So, I did do the exercise I last left off with, but I wasn’t really happy with it. I feel like I am doing too much “showing” and not enough “telling.” But now I’ve decided to give myself permission to just write and write about her in the hopes that I will somehow figure her out, or at least get a better, more realistic take on her. And since I am trying to get her more solid, I am now thinking that Max needs to be balanced somehow by her. Not to analyze my own work too much…
And I will put the disclaim on these to say that, necessarily, much of this work is not useful for a finished product except to help me build a character in my own mind.
Anyway. Here is what I have written about Shannon so far:
Shannon was realistic in one way. She knew her appearance and the way her body, face, and hair looked were something she happened to have by the fortune of youth and luck of the draw. She could afford to eat a cheeseburger now and then, because she danced it off every night. If, for some reason, she stopped dancing, she knew she’d turn into her mother or grandmother with dimpled thighs, heavy arms and breasts, jowls, and a wide hump of a back. Her hair would become thin, even if a brilliant silver would be something of a consolation. She was not going to accept this fate without giving it a good kick in the face by dancing her ass literally off.
She took up smoking to help her not eat. Being skinny was the name of the game. She thought about her lungs every other month or so, quit for a week, maybe two, then something would happen and she’d want another puff. Sometimes, though, when she woke up feeling like shit…too many shots with a bachelor party or something…a hangover coupled with ashtray breath, she’d swear them off forever. Again.
Last time she bought a pack, she’d found Jeremy (her 15 year-old brother) with pot, her Mom had called asking for money, and one of the girls at work had been fired for no apparent reason other than Steve had been in a bad mood that day. Some shit about how he thought she was laughing at him…talk about little man disorder…fuck! Anyone would take up smoking AND drinking on a day like that. It was just too much.
“Too fucking much,” she sighed, exhaling the smoke in a long stream that curled around and hung in the air.
(And in the morning, which is her night time)
When she got home after work, it was usually between 4 – 8 a.m. depending on if it was a slow weekday or a busy weekend. First thing she did was turn off the television, try not to wake up Jeremy (who was usually asleep on the couch), and take a shower. She loofahed her whole body until she was pink. Washed her hair with coconut shampoo, conditioned it with some secret hoodoo conditioner Brandy’s grandmother made from plants and tea and shit…she didn’t know what it was, but it worked like a miracle on her tangly curls. Before drying off, like all good strippers know to do, she slathered her we body with baby oil. She’d finally found one that smelled like lavender, not the sickening sweetness of a baby. The lavender put her in the mood for sleeping. She dried off in front of the steamy mirror, twisting her hair up into a towel turban. Then she removed her makeup and applied a thick night cream to her face and neck. She brushed her teeth, took down her hair, and combed it out with a wide-toothed comb. She applied extra ltion to her hands and feet, then threw on a huge, fluffy, chenille robe that hung on a hook on the back of the door.
She checked the answering machine. Fixed herself a mugh of hot water with lemon, grabbed the newspaper from the kitchen table, and crawled into bed. First, she read the want ads, then the comics, then, she worked the crossword puzzle. In pen. She lived on the edge.
(and then, a different take on the “piece of trash” exercise)
I can’t believe a grown man has so little sense, so little self-respect that he actually prefers to look at women he can’t have, paying with the cost of food and drinks and cover charges and lap dances and other wasteful ways. When I realized men would do this, I was all of 18 years old, and of course had no qualms about taking that money they waved at me, threw at me, or tucked into my g-string. It was about at this same time in my life that I began to realize that most adults I had met, if they weren’t trying very hard to behave otherwise, basically only worried about themselves, and therefore continued to act like small children. The clever ones who were intentionally choosing a life of selfishness were still like small children, only they had mastered the power of manipulation.
This, for example, was my mother’s perferred method of operating. Out of selfishness (because what other possible reason could there be?), my mother threw out our father for getting fired, and has followed up with man after man who used her, got her drunk or gave her drugs so they could control her in their own selfish game of “do what I say so I can feel important.” One or two of mom’s men did seem halfway decent. Joey P. and “Uncle” Robbie, as I had been told to call them, had at least wanted to be a father to me and Jeremy. They had treated us like valuable human beings–even mom–trying to get her sobered up, but ultimately each left for the same reason: Mom is a bitch. And a liar. Sometimes a thief. But mostly, an addict. When she isn’t using, she is none of those terrible things. But, like a child who must break the rules just for the mere fact that they are rules, my mom always returns to the sauce or the pills or both.
Not Shannon. Never Shannon. I have too much planned for my life to let a genetic disposition for alcohol and daddy issues turn me into the same fragile, selfish, and (now) incarcerated woman that my mother has become.