Truth in Writing

When you write, you have to tell the truth, even if you’re making it up. That’s the lesson I’ve learned over these past few months of slogging through the final chapters of the novel. Sure, the whole thing is fiction, start-to-finish. It’s made up. Make believe. Pretend. That’s not what I mean by truth. There are also some details I’ve taken from my real life (for example, the story takes place on a beach, and I’ve been to a beach before. See the connection?). That’s not what I mean by truth, either.

This story is just a creation. Just me, sitting here and watching the characters “happen” on the page. Yet, it’s true. True for someone, somewhere, who will one day read it and say, “You know, that character is totally me.” That’s the highest compliment and honor any reader could pay me – to say that I wrote something she or he could relate to. Could feel. Could get.

Face it, straight writing is simple. Any literate person can do it. “Anna and Frankie went to the beach. They swam. They got tan.” That’s writing. The real trick is for me to make you care that Anna and Frankie went to the beach, swam, and got tan. I can’t just tell you about these teenaged chicks on the beach (okay, that might do it for some of you), I have to show you. You need to watch the central conflict unfold, feel your way through the defining moments as the characters are, and understand what’s at stake for these girls. That’s your job as a reader (yes, I know I ask a lot. No passive entertainment here!).

As a writer, it’s my job – the base minimum at that – to give you a reason to follow Anna and Frankie on their journey through the world of the book. My ultimate goal, however, is to make you wonder about them long after you’ve turned the final page. These girls have kept me up nights for three years; surely they can spark something in you, too!

Seems like pretty basic Writer 101 stuff, maybe. But it’s harder than it looks. The reason I’ve struggled with the last few chapters is not because I don’t know how the story ends or what to write next, but because these later chapters are in danger of becoming just… writing. Maybe even good writing, in a stylistic sort of way. But lies, all lies. I’m just typing things on to the page – the girls are on the beach. They’re eating ice cream. It’s hot. Lately I feel like I get more personal intensity out of the random observational posts in this blog – the desolation of dairyland, or the Colorado winter storms, for example – than I do from my novel. I think it’s because I can sit and watch these things happen in front of me, interact with them, sense them, really pay attention to the emotion I got from being there rather than thinking about grammar and editing. With the book, conversely, there is no “there” – nothing to watch or participate in. Nothing to react to. It’s all in my head, and it’s confounded by rules.

*Light bulb!*

This story, in some form or another, has happened. I’ve experienced pieces of it or heard about it from others who’ve experienced it. We’ve all been young and foolish, we’ve all had broken hearts and bad dreams. What I need to do is take a step back, close my eyes, and create each scene in my mind like a movie. I need to totally immerse myself, so that I no longer write about some random beach, but the lone little gull who paces the tideline, the shush of the waves on the shore, the echoing laughter of kids splashing far away. Little things we’ve all experienced that can really ground a scene. Then, and only then, can I mine for the truth of the writing. It means longer hours at the laptop and many more rough drafts and outlines, but I need to do it. Otherwise it’s not real.

Alternatively, instead of making up little movies in my head when I’m pretending to be hard at work on yet another TPS report, one of you could send me on an all-expenses-paid beach vacation where I could while away my hours observing the delicate intermingling of the local and tourists cultures, sipping banana daiquiris, and shaking the sand out of my towel – all for the sake of research, of course. Just a thought. I mean, no pressure, but you’d get an acknowledgement in the book and everything.

If you’re too cheap to pony up for the trip, the least you could do is share a few beach memories for me. What do you remember most about visits to the beach? Sights, sounds, smells, feelings, everything. Come on, now. It’s either that or send me a check. Think about it and get back to me.

6 thoughts on “Truth in Writing

  1. What I remember most about going to the beach as a teenager are the piece bathing suits instead of bikinis so as not to expose the belly bulge, wearing water shoes along the shore or burying my feet in the sand to hide my unsightly toes. Sure, there were fun times as well; all of us singing songs together in the car and laughing all the way to the beach, stopping at seven-eleven for a foam cooler, ice, and cheetos, playing marco polo in the water, kadima (ralleyball), burying each other in the sand…but the teenage insecurities stand out most- you’d do everything in your power to improve your looks; sunbathe and tan until your skin hurts, hair drenched with sun-in, waterproof eyeliner and mascara because god forbid the boys should see you without make-up on. Only as an adult do you put all of these superficial cares away and learn to live freely and enjoy yourself.

    Bims, I hope you will find at least one or two of these memories helpful.

  2. MM beach memories

    Animal-turns, sandpipers, and pelicans. You can only find those in right next to the ocean, and I think mainly in the pacific. Sandpipers are my favorte. They are the bravest. When the waves roll back they run to the wet sand and stick their beaks in. They focus only on the task of getting food from the sand. They don’t flinch when the tide comes back in. Turns are always looking around at the tide. They are nervous creatures.

    Swimming in the ocean is the greatest trust experience. When a wave breaks, you must duck under in. Just a few feet under the harshest wave there is total calm. You can hear the turbulence above you, but you are safe as it breaks over your head.

    this knowledge leads me to an unfortuante practice known as HO-DAD busting. A hodad is someone from Nebraska or some other god-forsaken state. The locals take the hodad out into the wild surf and don’t tell him that if he doesn’t duck under a wave, he will “churn and burn” You take the hodad out to the surf, duck under the wave at the last possible second, when you come up for air, you see your new friend, several feet down the shore, all munched up.

    Unlike anonymous, I had very few if any beach insecurities. we lived close enough that you went to the beach every day. You sipmly got comfortable in your swim suit. The sad fact is I’m much more insecure about my body now. I’ve grown far more superficial with age.

    I wasn’t much for tanning, I mostly swam. At that time gilrs didn’t surf, but I idid have a boogie board.

    when I got older I did get a little more into the whole tan thing. The greatest thing about going to the beach is that it is one of the few places where you have permission to do nothing. You can just sit there and feel the warm sun on your skin. You don’t have to do anything else. It was heaven.

    One more detail, the beach, during peak season, is noisy. Radios, surf, kids scream, hodad families fighting about how to get the sand out of the baloney sandwhich. Hodad mom warning their dear sons to stay away from the local girls. And local girls telling the hodad boys exactly what they want to hear.

    Hodad: so how old are you

    MM: How old would you like me to be?

    Hodad: I’ll write to you when I get back

    MM: No you won’t and I don’t care

    Another fun thing we used to do at the beach was change our names. It was one of the places where you weren’t surrounded by kids from your own school, so you could be whoever you wanted to be.

    I must stop now. I’m feeling terribly homesick

  3. I have a few beach memories inspite of my mother instilling the fear of water in me!!! Yes it was durring my teenage years..the summer I was dating your dad and made my own two piece bathing suit. unbeknownst to me I used elastic that stretches out when it gets wet and shrinks back to its shape when it drys….Need I say more!!! Your dad spent all afternoon dragging me around in the water hoping my bathing suit bottom would fall off and the top pop up!… and then I had to run to the towel to thro my jacket on over the top that my giant chest was toppling out of!!! hence the lost high school ring. which is another “bad” memory from the beach.,.. my rings would fall off in the water so I buttoned them up in the pocket to keep them save and secure!! In my haste to throw the pullover jacket on over my stretched out suit, the flinging motion sent my 2 rings a flyin” the pearl ring your dad gave me to go steady..(back in the day) and my coveted Mount Mercy ring! we were able to find the pearl ring..but not the mercy ring. At the time i could not afford the &33.00 to replace the solid gold with 7 pearls..ring. nor would I go downtown to the dreaded chippewa strip to order it!! back then it was the hooker strip!!!! Really dating my self!! eventually The pearl ring was moved to the right hand anyway and replaced with a beautiful engagement ring and I figured I would never wear the school ring again anyway. What a suprize when your dad replaced it and gave it to me for our 31st. wedding anniversary!!! What a romantic fella. I do ocassionally wear it now.. because i recently joined a group of old high school buddies that get togethere every three months so i wear it then!! FUN! another fun beach memory… Again i was dating your dad and we were at the woodlawn beach at a late nite beach party..and I had to pee and snuck between the cars and proceded to pee all over my shorts and matching sash belt…NICE!! But my favorite of all beach stories…..Your dad being a seagul target…every time we go!! needless to say we don’t go to the beach so much anymore!!!!!!

  4. I too had a lot of insecurities as a teenager. Older and wiser means you’ve become more comfortable in your own skin.

  5. Some random thoughts:

    What I remember about the beach was being entranced watching the waves break on the shore. I loved how the white foam sparkled in the sunlight. If you look carefully, it looks like tiny pearls racing each other neck and neck to be the first to fall upon the sand.

    I also used the love to search along the line of shells along the water. I’d hunt for perfect shells with glossy pink undersides. I also treasure-hunted sea glass. My back would get sore from hunching over to inspect every little item of interest. I had amassed quite a collection of shells, rocks & sea glass. I have no idea what happened to it.

    Here’s another: did you ever go swimming right after you shaved your legs? Ouch! The salt would burn & leave little pink marks all over my legs.

    I’m sure you have a lot of material on sand already… but this HAS to be a universal experience: You know that thin beige piece of material that lines the crotch of swimsuits? Why on earth does that thing always fill up with sand when you go swimming?!

    One life lesson I’ve learned is that you should not wear a bikini with bust-enhancing padding if you plan to swim. The padding takes a lot longer to dry than the rest of the suit, leaving you with lingering wet dead-giveaways of your inadequacies. 🙂

    I remember people giving my Dad uneasy glances as he read Jaws while were we frolicking in the water…

    When I was in college, a seagull swooped down & took my Gyro right out of my hands while I was eating it.

    To this day, I love watching little kids run through a flock of seagulls… If there are no kids around, I’ll do it myself. 🙂

    Hope that helps!

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