This year I started National Novel Writing Month with an entirely different story than the one I shared from a few weeks ago. I got about two chapters in and realized I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, as per usual.
I find myself in the same rut -- my characters, while different, with different stories and different names, are the same. Always. I can't seem to break out of the mold. And more often than not I don't like them. I find myself bored. The thing is, I always base them on pieces of myself -- things that I know, characteristics of myself, experiences I've had -- so I'm not sure what that says except I'm exceptionally boring. I need to break out of that mold and step out of my comfort zone. Maybe choose a male character. Write from the perspective of a female protagonist who isn't exactly like me. Someone who doesn't run. Someone not from Wisconsin. Someone who hates cats, I don't know.
Point is, I see a pattern in my story writing that I need to break. Maybe then I'll be able to snap out of the rut I get myself into and actually finish NaNoWriMo one of these years.
Until then, here's the original story I started in November. This is everything I wrote, up to the last sentence. Then I just got... done:
There’s always a before and after, isn’t there? Before. And then after. You never realize it, though. Not before. It isn’t until after, when everything is changed, that you realize you had a before. And the one moment that changed it all stands between the two like a brick wall. You can’t bulldoze it. You can’t climb back over to the other side. You can only stare at it and remember what stood on the other side. Remembering. That’s all you get.
I’m Audra. This was my before.
I would have done it differently had I known. But wouldn’t we all?
Audra scrolled through the photos absentmindedly while waiting for her coffee order. Caramel macchiato, skim milk, hold the whipped cream. Every time. Her order never changed. The baristas knew her, of course. It was such a cliché, she realized.
“Hey Audra, the usual?”
Always the usual. Her mind was preoccupied this morning, so she replied to Jesse with a smile and nod, her concentration still focused on the photos in her phone. She’d been out for Mel’s birthday the night before, and photos were now beginning to populate the internet. She trusted Mel not to post anything ludicrous for the world to see, but you could never be too careful.
“Shit,” she muttered to herself, coming across an awfully unflattering photo. She hated the way her nose looked from certain angles. Most angles, really, if she was being honest. Did it really look that long? And crooked? People told her she was pretty all the time, but she always felt her looks were pretty in an unconventional way. Her hair was long, but a particularly forgettable shade of dirty blonde. Her eyebrows were unruly, her lips too thin. Every once in a while her eyes would spark with just a hint of green that always pleased her. But her nose; it always came back to the nose.
Skimming through the photos brought her mind to the morbid place it always went any time she analyzed photos of herself: would any of these be suitable for an obituary? It was a bizarre thought, she knew. But there’s no way she was the only person who ever considered this. She hoped.
It always crossed her mind, though, any time young people were in the news after a tragedy of some kind. The photos always seemed to make the entire situation that much more tragic. They’re always so young and beautiful with bright futures. The photos always seem to capture that, too. That essence. A perfect moment in time when they had all the promise in the world. Audra was skeptical whether any of these photos from Wally’s Pub met the “promising future” qualifications. Can you even show beer in an obituary photo?
She shook the thought from her head and looked up in time to see Jesse set her low-fat caramel macchiato sans whipped cream on the counter. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“Life saver,” she said while grabbing the hot mug, smiling at her favorite barista.
“That kind of morning?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Isn’t it always?” she winked, turning on her heels to head to the sofa in the corner. She liked to consider it “her” sofa since she’d been coming to Caffeine Café for nearly every Sunday for the last three months. She sat on the same sofa every time. She’d been a regular at the café since moving to Madison for college four years ago. The sofa in the corner – the one by the fireplace – was hers. No question. Which is exactly why she was taken aback to find another person curled up in her spot.
In true Audra fashion, she made no secret of her disgust as she audibly heaved her bag onto an ottoman across from the sofa and sat in the adjacent chair. She then continued to sit and glare in the general direction of her sofa. The man on the sofa paid no mind to her obvious frustration and continued to sip his coffee and read his fancy e-reader.
Two strikes against him, she thought to herself. In my sofa and reading an eBook. It bothered Audra that no one read books anymore. Good, old-fashioned books. You know, the ones with pages. She practically scoffed at the thought.
She continued to glare at the man who gave absolutely zero fucks about the wrench he’d thrown into her morning and pulled out her laptop. The semester was rapidly coming to a close, and if she was ever going to graduate, she had to get writing. She loved the fiction writing course she’d taken this semester, but the task of compiling 40,000 words for a piece of fiction was currently her personal hell. Audra was a writer by nature. It came to her as easily as riding a bike. The 11 notebooks at home full of short stories she’d been compiling over the years served as evidence. But this particular project had thrown her into a writers’ block she’d never experienced. And just like the last three days she sat down to write, she stared at what she’d already written and wanted to throw it out the window.
She hated her characters, she hated the plot.
“I’m better than this,” she mumbled to herself, glancing at her phone. An incoming call from Mel. She ignored the call and brought her focus back to her computer. Mel would have to wait. Audra refused to leave the café until she had at least 3,000 words hammered out. She looked at her current word total of 347 and dropped her head into her hand. It was going to be a long morning.
Audra never answered her phone. Ever. Mel knew this, but always tried anyway. She was nothing, if not persistent.
Mel ended the call and through her phone onto the pillow next to her. She was still in bed, of course, because of the whisky. She’d had enough last night to guarantee Sunday would be wasted on a hangover.
“Audra, you suck,” she said to no one in particular. Except Milo. Milo was a dog, so his insights were far and few between, but he at least pretended to listen. She tugged at her blanket and rolled over, pulling the sheet over her head. Milo responded with a grunt as he readjusted and spun in circles to find the perfect place to lie back down. He chose the spot directly in front of her face, naturally.
It’s not so much that she was regretting the whisky, but rather she was thankful she only had to turn 23 once.
She tossed again, this time away from Milo, unable to get comfortable or to cease the pounding in her head. Mostly she was curious how Audra’s night had ended. She knew once Tom showed up at the bar, Audra’s mood would plummet. And it did. But that didn’t stop her from mercilessly flirting with the bartender. At least he was good looking, Mel considered, while burying her face into the pillow.
She, of course, had gone home with Henry because there was hardly ever a scenario that didn’t end with Mel going home with Henry. He’d already snuck out this morning to head to work at the coffee shop downtown. Which is probably where Audra was, she realized. At the coffee shop ignoring my calls, she thought to herself.
Audra spent most Sundays at Caffeine Café working on her fiction project, she knew. Mel admired her motivation. Always did. She’d known Audra her entire life. They were in preschool together, taking naps and sharing one carton of chocolate milk with two straws on a regular basis, which was funny because it’d been 19 years and little had changed.
Mel’s father, Thomas, graduated high school with Audra’s parents, Lydia and Jeremy. The three of them were inseparable in high school, and when Thomas met Grace while on a family vacation in New York, the trio grew by one. When the two couples married after college, it was inevitable that their firstborns, born seven weeks apart, would be just as inseparable. Mel and Audra pride themselves in living up to expectations.