Happy Thoughts Do Not Make Good Stories

Come Thou Fount
I met with an author friend for lunch last week, during which time we discussed our ongoing projects and goals for completing them. As I was listing off ideas, I realized that I have way too much work on my plate, which is a good feeling (albeit overwhelming to the point that I freeze up). So when I got home, I developed a calendar for ensuring that I was hitting all the important areas each week. I might not hit every goal every week, but as long as I am writing and can track forward movement, I can plod along toward my goals. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Another area we talked about was my love of exploring characters who are not the traditional “hero.” In fact, hero is not a word that would be used to describe these characters in any stretch of the imagination. They are characters that most (all?) people do not even want to read about. So why write about them? Quite simply, because they fascinate me.

The news is full of stories of everyday people doing really stupid, horrible things. How many times when watching the news about a tragedy do we hear the neighbors say something along the lines of “he was such a normal young man, I would never have expected this of him”? How is it that Mr. Average Guy Next Door ends up doing something that boggles the mind? We hear stories of parents doing awful things to their children, teachers taking advantage of their students, business deals going bad and ending up in a horrible, horrible place, and groups of friends adopting a mob mentality to do the unheard of. I am particularly fascinated by those stories where the perpetrator had no viable reason for doing what they did: They got nothing out it, they had no history of mental illness, and they did not just snap in response to a difficult situation.

So how is it that Boy Next Door is mowing your lawn one day and has his picture plastered on every newspaper the next day? Sometimes it is a series of really bad decisions that get out of hand; sometimes it is a matter of nudging the line into a grey area that makes choosing between “right” and “wrong” increasingly difficult. At what point to these individuals realize that what they are doing is wrong—if they ever do? These are the characters that intrigue me.

I don’t write their stories because I condone their behavior. I write their stories because as human beings, our lives and our worlds are never as black and white as we like to pretend. We know that murder is wrong, but is having a fleeting thought about killing someone just as wrong? Most people would probably say no. However, when we replace murder with pedophilia, most people say even a fleeting thought of sex with a child is wrong. What if a person has such a thought, feels guilt and remorse, seeks out professional help to ensure that he doesn’t have such thoughts anymore, but no professional will agree to help him? He never once acts on his thoughts, but he cannot stop the thoughts from creeping into his brain. Evil person or simply human?

I know, I know…such happy thoughts today, eh? But these questions do come from a place of writing. I am working on a short story for an October 2 deadline. It’s the kind of short story that explores those grey areas that make us uncomfortable. The story goes one step further, though: We want to root for the protagonist, even when she is doing something really horrible (and just so you don’t squirm too much, the context is a breakup; there’s no sex involved). Unfortunately, I cannot share the story here yet (because I am still working on it!), but I did use the flash fiction prompt from Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to develop the context a bit more. This week’s prompt is to declare an intention in a 99-word story.

Last Supper

Lorelei finished off the last of her wine and then smoothed a hand over the restaurant’s tablecloth. Real linen. Fancy.

Too little, too late.

She pictured her therapist cheering her on, the older man wearing a short skirt and swishing pompoms.

“I need to move on.” Her voice was steady, just like she’d rehearsed.

The rah-rah-rah in her mind was interrupted by Jeremy’s derisive snort. “Like you can do better.”

Her anger flared, scorching her thoughts, burning up her balding therapist mid-cheer until the red flames engulfed her, becoming white hot.

Lorelei leveled her gaze at Jeremy. “Watch me.”

So what is it that Lorelei ultimately does? Ah, for that you will have to wait just a bit longer.



  • A schedule can be empowering, too! Often it’s a way to identify those important bites when the plate is full so we know to make it a balanced meal each week, even if we can’t eat it all. I’m really delighted that you used the flash to explore the context of a short story that you are working on. It can lead to insights or simply free up a stuck place. I could see her visualizations — that element really nailed it to see her shifting thoughts and feelings. Be sure to share the link when you can, to the fuller short!

    Charli MillsSeptember 30, 2015
    • Yes, I love the ideas of schedules, but somehow once I make a schedule, the world seems to implode and make following the schedule impossible. This go around, I basically made a weekly checklist of what I want to accomplish and included a place for notes to indicate any unexpected implosions. I haven’t checked off every item, but definitely hitting more than I was a few weeks ago. Progress!

      C. JaiSeptember 30, 2015
      • I hear you! This last schedule strategy, I broke down increments — Monday thru Thursday are “work” days. I do social media in 20 minute increments and writing/researching/revising in blocks of time too. It feels more flexible and i don’t stick to a schedule per say, but I accomplish a minimum amount of work and have time for play!

        Charli MillsSeptember 30, 2015
  • September 30, 2015

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