Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 16)

[Continued from Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13, Part 14, and Part 15]

That damn dream again. It was years ago—singular, inconsequential, illogical—but it’s stayed at the back of my mind, refusing to fade from memory.

I’m sitting in a hotel room with green patterned wallpaper. Everything’s sort of out of alignment in the way that picture frames are slanted and door knobs are oddly placed and purposefully out of reach. When I stare hard enough at the walls, they melt a little and threaten to close in on me.

I’m in some sort of maze or sick escape room situation. This ornate room is reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Places des Vosges apartment, except I’m at the Grand Hyatt, even if I have no idea how I arrived at that knowledge. I try to exit the room, but each doorway leads me deeper into a labyrinth of hallways.

In the next scene, I’m at the pool, presumably on holiday at a resort. It’s a nice sort of urban oasis, though the motel-like blocks flanking this one main pool are low-rise and people are chilling on balconies. I’m with someone from my past, and his presence troubles me. Maybe he’s telling me this is our last vacation together, or something in that vein. There is something final and absolute about being in that pool at that specific moment. Enjoy it while it lasts, is the message, but I’m unable to.

In the next and final scene, I’m fleeing. I’m desperate to get away from the mixture of humiliation, sadness, anxiety, and fear that’s bubbling inside me. Along the way, I spot a friendly face from a distance. Someone is waving and calling out to me and at first I think it’s a neighbor because he’s standing in front of a laundry line, in what looks to be a backyard. However, as I approach, I see that he’s that someone from the pool.

He seems like a different person—for one, he’s completely dry and is acting as if whatever conversation or agreement we had earlier at the pool never happened—but he’s eager to tell me something.

I’m relieved to see him and I listen in. But then he breaks into a fit of hysterical laughter that is at once frightening and condescending. “I believed you were better than this,” I say, before turning to run.

As my bare feet pound the ground, his laughter trails me all the way. It echoes in my ears long after I’m jolted awake.

I still remember that crazy hotel room with its green-patterned walls threatening to melt into me. The very pool scene where I felt compelled to put on a happy face even if I was dying inside. However, the thing that haunts me most is that humiliating, maniacal laughter.

Everything about this damn dream chills me to the bone to this day, and I’m almost angry at my inability to simply forget about it. I’ve certainly had dreams I’ve struggled to remember, but never this one. This dream will likely follow me to my grave.

Which is why I may as well write about it.

[to be continued]

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What Now? Five Things I’ve Learned about Writing

832 days.

Exactly the number of days that elapsed between publication of the first book and completion of the sequel’s first full draft. That works out to 2 years and 102 days, most of spent not writing anything at all.

Anyhoodle, I wouldn’t call 832 days a long time (I mean, Anne Boleyn had a longer stint in her famously short reign as Queen of England), but it was during this period that I learned a good deal about writing, and about the kind of writer I am.

Here are five of them for a start.  Continue reading

The Storybook Villain

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So I’m twelve chapters into my sequel and something is bothering me—there is no obvious villain in the story. Or should I say I still haven’t decided who, among the many characters, I want to assign the role to.

Literature is littered with too many cases of cardboard villains who, for reasons unknown, have decided to exist solely for the pleasure of thwarting or doing harm to the protagonist. These days, however, it’s hardly enough to be a baddie, just because. One’s gotta be a good baddie, complete with a credible backstory, unjustifiable yet understandable motivations, a dangerous but persuasive personality, an underlying vulnerability, and so on.

Given the implications, and how I’ve grown to care deeply about every single character, no matter how minor or major a part they play in the story, I’m going back and forth on several possible scenarios. Even the possibility that the baddie is everyone and no one.

Stop overthinking it, just write, I tell myself. But to pull off a convincing showdown between opposing forces, I first have to be convinced—and I’m struggling with the struggle because I’m a toughass critic when it comes to these things.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t want to have a villain simply for the sake of having a villain, especially the sort that everybody loves to hate. And then I wonder, more generally: in life, do we even need villains in order to overcome obstacles? Granted there are many irritating people in our lives who’ve made difficult situations almost unbearable—but are they the issue itself or just the catalyst that forces us to face a more significant, pre-existing problem?

Pondering on the subject of villains has got me a little introspective, I’ll have to admit. Revisiting my history of run-ins with ‘baddies’—and dredging up memories that are tied to specific times and places—has not been easy. Also, in order for me to reframe these unpleasant individuals within a larger narrative, a fair bit of reconditioning is involved.

That’s been an interesting exercise, to say the least.

As I unpacked my memories (especially ones I’d much rather forget) and reconsidered their place within my mental catalog, I was able to detach them from the emotions that went with the particular encounters. As a result, many horrible people of my past started to look less like the powerful and enigmatic villains I’d made them out to be, and more like, well, people. Yes, they were manipulative, calculating, opportunistic, and mean-spirited, but still just people.

And as I examined the various instances in which various ‘baddies’ made my life hell, I noticed that my fears and insecurities—and how I responded to them—were a common thread.

These same fears and insecurities were the real villains, whose rules everyone played by, me and my tormentors included. The ‘bad guys’ only won because they recognized this fact, and I didn’t. As a result, even if I believed myself to be on the side of ‘good,’ I lost. Every single time.

As someone who grew up reading any book she could get her hands on, and being thoroughly acquainted with every storybook villain imaginable, I always assumed the bad guys came to bad endings. The evil character was always, always vanquished, no matter how seemingly weak the protagonist was. Because that’s how it is in fiction. Good always wins.

But frankly, since I began to write my own books, this whole villain conundrum has made me think twice. Why did I always assume a novel’s main character was ‘good’ just because they narrated the story, and that the antagonist was someone outside themselves?

So what happens if the villain lies both without and within? I guess I’ll have to keep writing to find out.