What If Exercises #16 and #45

Exercise #16

Work with one of your completed stories that has a character who needs fleshing out. Take out a sheet of paper and number from one to thirty-four. At the top of the page, write in the title of your story and the main character’s name–and start filling in the blanks.

Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up

1.Character’s name: Henrikas “Henry” Adomanis – Vacys is his middle name, after his maternal grandfather
2.Character’s nickname: HenREEKus, Hen, Henry, henpecked when he was going out with that girl.*
3.Sex: Male (duh. I mean, even if I didn’t know jackshit anout my character, I would know what gender. {Sometimes I get mad at these exercises.])
4.Age: October 21st, 1978, so almost 32 now
5.Looks: He’s got sweet, puppy-dog eyes. Maybe he looks kinda like Campbell. Cute, a little shlubby, looks better ina suit than a t-shirt because of his beer belly. Often wears a vest because of his belly. Nice lips, can’t ever get rid of all his five o’clock shadow, but still has a baby face. Def looks younger than his 32 years. Only a little bit of chest hair, very doughy when he’s naked, moles on his back. Three that his ex-girl used to call Orion. He has nice feet. Sometimes he uses a pumice stone, but he would never tell anybody that. No, he would tell his good friends that. And his ex-girl found out.
6.Education: Masters in education from somewhere in Ohio. I forget what I said. U of O? I’ll look online for educational programs in Ohio.** Somewhere selective. He’s super smart.
7.Vocation/occupation: Teacher, elementary school, just subbing for now
8.Status and money: His parents are not rich, but white-collar. He’s broke. Does some freelance writing stuff because his undergrad degree is in English.
9.Marital status: Single, kind of fed up with looking, doesn’t think he’s gonna do the whole fall in love thing
10.Family, ethnicity: His parents are Lithuanian, he’s first generation American. His grandparents and his parents live in Ohio. His mom’s parents stayed in Lithuania. His grandfather was going to come visit when his mother – Martina? – was pregnant, but he had a heart attack and died. Father’s parents are young. His paternal grandmother was 18 when she had his father. His father was 20 when he was born. So his grandmother’s only 60.
11.Accent, diction, etc.: Midwestern accent, but he can do a Lithuanian accent really well. Kind of a low-talker by nature
12.Relationships: He broke up with his last girlfriend two years before the story takes place. She was crazy and moody, but he was in love with her. He got to the point where he realized that nothing was going to change, broke up with her hoping she would get better and one day they could be together again. But she just moved back to Minnesota and she won’t talk to him anymore.
13.Places (home, car, office, etc.): Lives in an apartment complex like Alpine Lakes, in a one bedroom. Drives something blue, probably a Toyota. [Everybody in my stories drives Toyota or Oldsmobiles. If the story takes place in the 70s, a Fiat or a Datsun.]
14.Possessions: Has a silver pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather, a high school ring his mother insisted on buying him, a decent entertainment center, a macbook, an Iphone, not an early adopter, though. Lots of books, lots of educational books, a set of encyclopedias his grandparents got him for high school graduation.
15.Recreation/hobbies: Drinking, drinking, drinking, getting stoned on the weekends, movies, video games, but less and less. During the first weeks of warm weather, one of his friends will talk him into biking or playing soccer or touch football. He tried yoga with his girlfriend, liked it, but it was more her thing.
16.Obsessions: He’s really into obscure old-timey TV shows like “The Prisoner.” But his main obsession is Pauline, his ex-girlfriend. He got to a point where he felt like he was getting over her about a year ago, but when she flat out refused to talk to him, that stirred things up for him again. It was fine before because there was always the hope, but now it’s like she’s dead. He plays back the pivotal moments leading up to the break-up over and over again, trying to fix them.
17.Beliefs: In God, by default. Or else he’s a lazy athiest. When he and Pauline were together, they studied Buddhism and Hinduism a little. He likes a lot of religions on the surface. But he mostly believes in getting through the day. In theory, he believes in education, but he doesn’t realize how disillusioned he’s become.
18.Politics: Liberal, almost without thinking about it.
19.Sexual history: Had most of his sex in his six-year relationship with Pauline and his freshman year of college with his girlfriend back then. One-night stands here and there.
20.Ambitions: Would like to teach teachers one day, but for now he just wants to get a full-time teaching gig. Would like to have a big family.
21.Religion: Brought up Catholic, goes with his mother when he visits.
22.Superstitions: He won’t turn down shots, thinks it’s bad luck.
23.Fears: Doesn’t like heights, but that doesn’t come up often, used to be afraid of snakes as a kid, afraid of not being remembered, not being loved, not being able to love, afraid of his parents’ getting old and sick, dying before giving his mother grandchildren.
24.Attitudes? I don’t know what the fuck that means. Skip.
25.Character flaws:Thinks he knows himself better than he actually does, takes things too seriously, overdeveloped sense of responsibility.
26.Character strengths: Overdeveloped sense of responsility, incredibly loyal, patient, kind
27.Pets: Maybe he should get that dog***. [Maybe it’s a longer story and the three plotlines could be: 1)his work at the school/Lou-lou; 2)his training the new dog; and 3) his relationship withhis ex-girlfriend which reminds him of training the new dog.]
28.Taste in books, music, etc.: He’s snobby when it comes to reading and books. Likes stuff that the Village Voice would endorse, likes Tom Robbins, Tom Waits, but not Tom Hanks.
29.Journal entries: Brief, terse
30.Correspondence: Emails with his father a lot, talks to his mother on the phone, writes letters to his grandmother.
31.Food preferences: Spicy, though his stomach is protesting more as he grows older. Likes to cook, loved to cook for Pauline, so he doesn’t really that much anymore, though he doesn’t understand the connection. Or won’t admit to it.
32.Handwriting: Neat. Likes to write by hand, reminds him of his grandmother.
33.Astrological sign: Libra/Scorpio cusp
34.Talents: Bar tricks, air guitar with people he’s really tight with

*I don’t figure out who the girl is till later.
**Teachers College at University of Cincinnati. Maybe he got in somewhere way more elite, but he wanted to stay close to his family.
***In the first outline/draft, Lou-Lou gave him one of her dogs’ puppies. I cut it out, but I like the ideas that this brought up. Segue:

This is a really helpful exercise. I might even call it essential. It gave me all the stuff about his love life, which I think is kind of driving his life. And I like the three story lines. I’m going to try to do a new outline today.

Exercise #45
Have a place in your writer’s notebook where you play around with titles, making a list of your favorites. Or read through a story looking for a title to emerge from the story itself–a phrase, an image, etc.

All Over the Map
Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up
Box of Puppies
The House I Grew Up In
The Archivist
The Conservator
Shelter
Where the Work Is
Making That Money
Baby Birds
Sentimental Value
Responsibility
Buried
So That No One Forgets
Known Facts About Death
Well-known Facts About Death
Commonly-known Facts Concerning Death
Universally Accepted Understandings of Death
Eating Ghosts
Learning New Words
Learning New Words in a Foreign Place
Learning New Words When You’re Just Visiting
Just Visiting

Titles usually come pretty easily to me, but the title “So That No One Forgets” is off. That story is off. I think it could benefit from exercise #45. It’s about a family that builds a patio out of old gravestones from a military cemetery. I got the idea from the “Weird, but True” section of the paper. No lie. I wouldn’t trust that I could make that idea believable if I’d come up with it myself.

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