The Use of Fact in Fiction

Stories rely on a writer’s ability to create a reality that is quickly and easily understood by an audience that hasn’t seen, let alone imagined, that reality themselves. The more convincing the reality, the more compelling the story, and the better the story does its job. When a credible reality forms the foundation of a story, that story more powerfully entertains (or – if you’re into that sort of thing – educates). As far as I’m concerned, fact always makes fiction better. And in the age of the internet, people expect accuracy.

You can sometimes assume a certain amount of forgiveness for the realities you create, depending on your genre. For example, the actually-quite-ridiculous tropes that make up fairytales (dress in a walnut, anyone?) are accepted as an established part of the storytelling. No one questions a talking animal in a Grimm’s fable. It would be like going to a musical and demanding to know why everyone breaks into songs that perfectly tie into their feelings and/or the overarching theme of the plot. Once a reader recognizes the threads of a traditional fairytale in the story they’re reading, they immediately become more indulgent of the author’s reality.

Scifi is another genre. As long as it’s not hard science fiction, you can play fast and loose with physical reality. Every third-grade student with a basic grasp of the solar system would laugh at Ray Bradbury’s 1950 depiction of Venus as a planet constantly besieged by rain and covered by fungus if he’d written it now, but “All Summer in a Day” is still a terribly accurate depiction of the cruelty of children. Just make sure your people are acting like people, and consistently follow your own rules. Venus is a rain-drenched world overgrown with plants? Fine, but it still better be by the end of it.

However, if a book’s reality is based in the real-world, real-world rules must apply. Never has the reader been more skeptical or more ready to defend his skepticism than in the age of wireless connections, smartphones, and Google search. With the advent of the internet, every reader has easy access to nearly infinite libraries, and a story must survive any immediate fact-checking to its basic reality when everyone, as they say, is a critic. A book is judged as much by the facts that exist within its covers as by its plot.

This is not a challenge that belongs solely to the cyberspace generations. H. G. Wells was a particular master of setting the fantastic upon the mundane. War of the Worlds, written in 1898 and based on the areas in which he lived and explored by bicycle, details an alien invasion in which, in his own words, “I completely wreck and sack Woking – killing my neighbors in painful and eccentric ways – then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feat of peculiar atrocity.” He didn’t simply write about an imaginary alien invasion. He wrote about an imaginary alien invasion that took place in a real time and place. Aliens were one of the few imaginary aspects of the piece.

(Fun fact: apparently Jules Verne, the father of science fiction and a contemporary of Wells, complained that Wells used scientifically implausible inventions, like time machines and spaceships not powered by coal or other late 19th century mechanisms for power. Still, though Wells’ devices may not have worked in the real-world, his ideas could be imagined in it. His use of mundane reality made the fantastic believable.)

William Golding did something similar in my favorite illustration of original sin ever, Lord of the Flies. According to the overly wordy introduction to my copy (said the blogger in her overly wordy essay on the use of fact in fiction), he presumably used the teachings of psychoanalysts, anthropologists, social psychologists, philosophical this, that, or the other (if it had an “ologist” at the end of it or a “p” at the start it made the list) and wrote a disturbingly plausible thought-experiment on what happens to humanity when you remove all civil constraints and leave sinful man to his own devices.

(In short: Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!)

Eesh. Good times, Bill. I once read William Golding explaining the too-optimistic end to his novel – an adult coming in deus ex machina style to save the boys from themselves – as nothing of the kind. The last image of the novel is the naval officer turning from the weeping main character to look at his cruiser, trim, civilized, and prepped for war. Man can never save man from himself. Without the psychological (and – dare I say – theological) understanding of the evil inbred in our nature, Lord of the Flies would have been a mere adventure story. Just one of thousands.

Animal Farm (subtitled “A fairy story”) is another favorite dystopian nightmare of mine. Written by George Orwell in 1945 – while Soviet Russia was still the great hero and ally of WWII – he used talking barn animals and a farm run by communist pigs to criticize the government hailing out of Moscow. A socialist himself, Orwell had narrowly escaped the communist manhunts in Spain, and he was dismayed at – as he put it – “how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries.” Still busy singing Stalin’s praises, companies in both Britain and American refuses to publish the satire, right up until the Cold War.

The pointed comparisons that Animal Farm made between socialist ideals and the reality of communist Russia were – and are – powerful. Read through many internet discussion boards and it becomes clear that Orwell is alive and well. Though one of the reigning adages on the internet is Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies (which maintains that every argument on an internet chat forum will inevitably lead to a comparison to Hitler or Nazism), the following could easily be added as a subset: that every political argument will also eventually invoke “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  The “fairy story” is over seventy years old, and still making people mad. That is the power of fact.

Of course, not all fiction is created equal (some of it is, one could argue, more equal than others), and not every story intends to make a point. Many are written primarily to entertain. But how well it entertains depends just as much on fact as the book that was written to teach. For $8.75 at the local bookstore, fantasies provide hours of some of the best escapism out there, and are even more firmly bound by rules than “real” fiction.

Harry Potter, for example, is a world based on magic and the clever bastardization of Latin words, yet it clearly resonates with people across countries, continents, and oceans. Why? Because it is founded, at a deeper level, on reality. There are trolls and giants and magical games on broomsticks, but there are also children going to school and studying for exams and trying to figure out what to do when faced with hard choices. Everyone understands the struggle to grow and move on and face forward. Create a reality that allows your reader to fully immerse in both story and characters, and a school fantasy of epic good vs. evil makes an author billions.

Even better, entertainment almost always accidentally teaches. Westerns owe much of their appeal to the guarantee that the good guy always win (and the bad guys are not only hatchet-faced but also have names like Scut and Fargus), but they’re also a great portrayal of the Old West. I’ve learned more from Louis L’amour than I ever expected to*. Romances too run about a dime a dozen, but the ones that are passed on from generation to generation have, at their heart, an understanding of human psychology, social constraints, and a depiction of history from a domestic perspective. Jane Austen survived the century, as did the Brontë sisters. Gone with the Wind lives on as both a romance and a look at life during and after the Civil War. It demonstrates the everyday struggles of the time period (and how that may have felt) in a way that no history book can ever quite capture.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 is my young adult go-to example. Based on a very real event (the unsolved bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church on September 15, 1963, where four teenage girls were killed during the civil rights period) the author neither preaches nor sermonizes. Instead, most of his story focuses on the Watson family and their hilarious everyday lives. Yet by the time the bombing occurs in the storyline, I’ve been sucked into the perspective of a young black boy in the 60s. “Although these names,” Christopher Paul Curtis writes in the epilogue of his novel, referring to the four young women killed, “may be nothing more than names in a book to you now, you must remember that these children were just as precious to their families as Joetta was to the Watsons or as your brothers and sisters are to you.”  

Knowledge never limits; it enhances and broadens. As the world opens up, so do the stories. In many ways, that has always been the point of fiction. By no means do facts destroy imagination. Even in the scientific world, two scientists working from the same set of observable data may come up with completely different theories. Rather, facts provide opportunities to create believable realities. Stories based on an accurate understanding of either the world or – at the very least – the people in it can better hold up against the hordes of armchair scholars ready and willing to crush the hours you poured into spinning the weave of your world into so much forgettable pulp.

Pour truth into the undergirding of your story, and time may well let you pass unhindered. In 1993, when asked to write an introduction for To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee refused. “Mockingbird,” she wrote in a short foreword, “still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.”

*Bank a fire against a rock to project heat. Look back as you walk a trail so that you may better recognize it when you return. If you stare into a fire you won’t be able to see anything for a few crucial seconds between staring at the fire and firing your weapon at someone creeping up on you in the dark.

In my continuing defense, at some point in the past I worked very hard on these

A Mouse Tale
By Andrea

Eeny, meeny
miney dragon
Have you been
plane in my wagon?

Eeny meeny
miney to Have
you been sleepn in
my shoe?

Eeny meeny
miney wink
Have you been
Planying in my sink?

© 1993/94

You thought I was kidding about scalping my Elementary schoolwork for blog material, didn’t you? “A Mouse Tale” has been transcribed exactly as written, and looks only slightly less like a series of texts written by a drunk person in the original handwriting. In my defense I was six (or possibly seven) at the time, and had only learned to write either a few weeks or a few months before. Mind you, this was not the first book I ever wrote. But I’ll save that remarkably good read for another time.

Oh! But speaking of texts (or more accurately – modern phones), two grades later, in the Fall of 1995, I came up with the following invention:

The crazy wacky wierd telophone.

When you press a button you can say the persons first and last name and it will dial the number for you. And if its to soft it will louden it up for you. I invented it so if you dont know what the number you can just press a button and say the persons first and last name and it will dial. You can buy it at malls. It costs $900 dollars.

I think someone in the phone industry may owe me a good deal of money.

At the end of the year – or so I’m guessing, considering its placement in the back of the file marked “Third Grade” – is a story that has actual plot, dialogue, and markedly improved sentence structure and spelling. That was my first year with Mrs. Anderson (I had her again in fifth grade), and she still rates high in the rankings of my favorite teachers. I can trace everything I first learned about story structure and plot progression to her.

So, without further ado, The Story Folder now presents “Among the Stars,” a third grade production of daring adventure in space, first brought to the world probably late in the Spring of 1996!

My story starts in Missoula, Montana in the forest. There’s a pond many, many trees and there is my house. It is pretty, white with black trimmings and it has a big garden.

By the way my name is Andrea Lynn Schultz. I have a friend named Czechislovakia. I’ll call him Chuck. He’s a skinny young boy and has blond hair, blue eyes, and is almost 4 feet tall. We both are 9 years old. One night Chuck and I were sitting on the front porch just enjoying ourselves. Suddenly a huge light appeared out of no where and it landed. The light ceased. In its place was a rocket!

My friend got scared stiff and almost fainted. I just stood there. It was blazing with the light of stars. Printed on the side of the rocket in golden letters was Star Lab. It had a blue stripe on the top of it, and the rest of it was gray. It was shimmering like a crystal. There was about a million ridges on it and was about 45 feet tall. On the tip of the nose of the rocket was a fire ball. It wasn’t burning the rest of the rocket, but I think that’s what kept it shimmering. It had the power of at least 20 trucks and was in the shape of a cone. It looked like it just had been polished. But right then to my horror the door opened and Chuck and I were sucked in! Finally he got to his senses and I wasn’t so frightened. Inside of the rocket were green buttons, red buttons, blue buttons, long buttons, small buttons, buttons of all different shapes and sizes. I couldn’t believe how many buttons there were! The inside of the rocket was painted teal and it too looked like it had been polished. It had two little chairs that were soft and could be twirled around. It had a couple of windows shaped into a circle. Then I remembered I had to get out. I tried and tried to get the door opened but it was locked! I was trapped and frightened!

Just then there was a jolt, and I flew back and landed on a big green button which turned the rocket on! I tried pushing a button but the pressure pushed me back and off we went! Finally the rocket slowed down and then what do you think happened? Chuck and I went floating through the air! I pushed myself toward the control room and found a little blue button which was labeled gravity. I pushed it and whump, bump Chuck and I came bumping down to the floor.

Then I looked out the window and I saw the horizon, the zenith, and then I saw Missoula. I started crying but I stopped crying because I knew it wouldn’t help getting home. Then I looked up and I saw many many different kinds of constellations. I saw Aquila, that means eage. And I saw Cassiapeia, Corona Borealis, Cygmus, Delphinus, Draco, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Lycra, Ophiuchus, Serpens, Orion, Pegasus, Polaris, and last but not least, Ursa Minor.

I was not sure where I was headed but it looked like I was going for the sun! But right when we were about to hit we took a sharp turn and there in the back of the sun was a green mushy mucky gooey planet! Yuck! What a disgusting planet! “What should we call this disgusting planet?” I asked Chuck.

“Beats me,” he answered.

“How about gooey green and mucky thing?” I said.

“No, that sounds like some monster covered with slime.” Chuck answered.

“Yah. I guess your right. Hmm I wonder.” I said.

“Hey! I know,” Chuck said. “How about the planet Oableck,” he said.

“Yah! Cool! Awesome! Radical! Nice name.” I said.

“I wonder if we will land.” Chuck said.

“Nope not on this planet. But I wish we would.” I said.

“Me too.” Chuck said. But I wouldn’t get out. I looked out the window again. Now the stars were shimmering even more than before. I looked at the world, and it was really small now. I sighed and said “I wonder if we will ever get back?”

“Wait a minute,” I said, “why don’t we turn this baby around.”

“Don you touch anything!” yelled Chuck. “I don’t want to get killed!”

“Oh don’t be such a baby.” I answered.

“Well O.k.” Chuck said. “Then lets get moving. Here’s a red button that says turn.”

“Then push it!” I said. “O.k.” And so we turned toward the sun.

I told Chuck to get some food because both of us know it is midnight snack time, so Chuck went to get some food that we found in a pantry. He came back, tripped on a bump and came jolting forward and hit a button that said “full speed ahead.” Aaauugghh! “We’re going straight for the sun!” We both yelled at the same time! I pulled at along skinny button that said stop, reverse. I pulled that, but I guess the pressure was to strong and it snapped off! Chuck and I knew that the long skinny button was our only chance and now it was snapped off.

We both started screaming as loud as we could and when we just started screaming, whump I fell out of bed! “Whoa What a nightmare,” I said. I jumped out of bed and then heard a small clunk. I looked on the floor and laying there was the long skinny button! I almost fainted I was so surprised! At breakfast I told my family about what happened last night, but no one believed me. I even showed them the long skinny button! I guess it was invisible to them. When I went to school I told all of my friends except Chuck about what happened and I showed them the long skinny button but nobody believed me and they couldn’t see the button either! Then Chuck came running up to me and he said he had a really bad dream and he told me about what happened. He was telling the story of what happened last night! When he got to the last part of it he ended it like this and when he was finishing I showed him the button and it sounded like this, “Then I um woke up” and he fainted.

“What a sissy,” I said. And now I knew I really had been among the stars.

More from the Ash Heap of University

Tomorrow morning, some poet may, like Byron, wake to find himself famous—for having written a novel, for having killed his wife; it will not be for having written a poem.

–Randall Jarrell

If you thought that last Monday’s update was bad, this week’s blog is even worse: I’ll be posting my free verse poetry from college.

*cue agonized screams*

My feelings on free verse are pretty uncomplicated: I hate it. It has very little understanding of grammar, none at all for structure, and relies heavily on the overuse of the indent key in Microsoft Word.

My dislike for free verse is possibly inborn – or maybe just ingrained. I was five years old when Maya Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and Dad rolled his eyes at the dinner table and said “free verse” in a disgusted sort of voice. Mom followed that up with an annoyed “Maya Angelou” sort of sigh of her own.

However, my first real run-in with free verse happened when I was in fifth grade. The PTA at Lewis & Clark put on a school-wide contest for art, poetry, and writing, to be judged by some of their members. Because I’m enormously dedicated to my two watchers, I actually spent an afternoon digging through my old hope chest until I found my entry. Behold:

I received a participation award and written comments from three judges. One was a very kind note complimenting me on my use of descriptive words, the second was clearly written by someone who was tired of judging (A hastily scrawled, “Very well done!”), and the third contained the following:

“A bit of advice! Did you know you could write poems that don’t always have to rhyme? Read some of Arnold Adoff’s or Jane Yolen’s poetry and see – then go back w/ this idea of flying – and try it out and see if your ideas and words don’t come a little more freely to describe what you want!

“But great poem!”

(I love that “But great poem!” at the end. Oh crap, I forgot I’m supposed to pretend I like all the things I’m judging.)

The note annoyed me, not because she didn’t appreciate my style (that was her prerogative; I was proud of my poem, and nothing she said could take away the pleasure I’d had in writing it), but because I did know that poems don’t always have to rhyme. I’d written a structured poem because I liked structured poems. Rhyming is a kind of magic – fun to read out loud, easy to memorize, and a sort of a puzzle to write (can you fit your ideas into this neat little box?). It was frustrating that I couldn’t explain to this woman that I’d done so purposefully, and not because I was too stupid to know better.

Still, easy enough to brush aside; I thought her silly. One of those adults who looked down on children and the things they liked just because they were children. I shrugged and moved on.

But it seriously angered my father. He was mad for the same reasons I was annoyed (“Of course you know that poems don’t have to rhyme”) but also – now that I look back – probably because he was afraid that she had discouraged me from doing something I had a talent for. But he needn’t have worried. Moms are built-in #1 fans (she’s the reason I still have some of my old artwork and stories from Elementary school), and I’ll always keep that memory of Dad angry at some lady he’d never met, simply because she didn’t like my poem, locked away in my heart. Sometimes I take it out to look at it, and remember that my parents believed in me first.

Now that I’ve gotten older and have been forced into greater contact with free verse through college (though I’ve still never actually heard of Arnold Adoff or Jane Yolen), I’ve discovered that it’s not as bad as it once seemed. In fact, it can be a very clever way to say something concisely (which perhaps also contributed towards my innate dislike for it; like holding up garlic to a vampire. Write this short thing, Andrea. Well, I can try butAAUGH IT BURNSSS).

For example, back when I was still lurking on Deviantart (mostly for art, but sometimes they’d feature writing on the front page), I found a beautiful piece of free verse about a woman who finally consents to date her best friend – the only man to treat her kindly. When he laments over the wasted years (years she spent abused; if not by men, then by herself), she tells him she needed those years to learn that she could love, and be loved. They’d never have made it before then.

Anyways, it was more eloquent than that, but the point is there can be really great stories – especially stories that are as much felt as told – packed into free verse. It’s impressive when done well.

I just wish we wouldn’t call it poetry. Call it short prose, call it lyrical flash fiction (or nonfiction), I don’t care, but stop trying to compare apples with oranges. Sure they’re both fruit, but they grew on entirely different trees. Keeping your ideas short and tapped entirely into feeling takes one kind of skill, and molding an idea into a strict structure bound by rhyme takes another. Some people have an ear for it, others spend years honing it, but making your rhymes flow naturally within a rigid rhythm and verse structure is only restrictive to people who can’t do it.

Mind you, I probably wouldn’t mind sharing a genre type with the free verse folks if they’d just stop discrediting what I do. I took a couple of poetry classes in college, and the most common critique I had from my classmates was, “Well, it’s nice for kids.” And while I have to admit that I do write a lot of poetry for children (and not just because that’s still an acceptable market for rhyme; I also happen to like writing for kids), there’s the odd murder poem I’ve yet to post, a few lines written from my occasionally lonely heart, and at least one politically charged poem in my portfolio.

Oh man, am I off track. Let’s take a U-turn back to my original intention:

In college, all of the poems I presented in class rhymed, but we also had to turn in a workshop journal with a boatload of assignments from my poetry book. As it turns out, free verse takes about a tenth of the time that my usual style does – or at least the way I do it. I am, if nothing else, practical.

(Also, I apologize in advance for the stupid line breaks.)

ASSIGNMENT: What images obsess you?  What can you look at for hours and not get bored?  Contrast with an image you repress or fight.

ASSIGNMENT: Write a short poem that begins and ends with the same line.

ASSIGNMENT: Write an “I believe speech.”

Last few facts: free verse isn’t as modern as it seems. The history of the form actually goes back centuries before I was alive to complain about it. Old Testament psalms, anyone? Then in 1890 the poets Kahn and Laforgue first coined the phrase vers libre in French, though for my part I blame Walt Whitman, who received the credit for writing the first free verse poetry in English.** There’s also something to be said about a man named Richard Aldington, who claimed (a quarter of a century later) in the preface to a 1915 Imagist anthology, that free verse was a principle of liberty.

And we wonder why unstructured poetry comes across as so pretentious.

*Oh my lazy heart, I just realized I have an entire hope chest full of homework I can use for the blog. Next time, on The Story Folder: The cat is ill. The dog is glad.

**There’s some debate as to whether this is true, but poets become famous about half as many times as the continents drift, so any poet who becomes well known for their poetry instead of, say, murdering their wives***, is celebrated for anything they did with the form, whether or not they were first.

***William Burroughs, Louis Althusser, Gu Cheng, and Conrad Aiken to name a few. A risky trade, apparently.

My honor demands I pick up that glove and give satisfaction

So in response to the last post, a certain member of my family *hacking coughs that rhyme with IT guy’s name* rather insensitively pointed out that a writing exercise whose main edict is “make longer sentences of these shorter sentences” is pretty much my perfect homework assignment.

Challenge accepted. The following is a self-inflicted assignment to make shorter sentences of these longer ones.

Mrs. Bauermann’s obituary would later say she had been a pillar of the community, an officer in her neighborhood association and the kind of person who volunteered countless hours at the nearby school, but when the students at the nearby school in question first heard about the old bat’s sudden demise, it was from an article on page two of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, under the headline “Local Woman Dies on Roof.”

  • Old bat dies on roof.


But Teddy’s grades swung between A’s and D’s with no discernible pattern, his entire academic career could be summed up by the running theme in his report cards since kindergarten (“Great enthusiasm but he needs to learn how to pay attention!”), and the only time anyone had asked him if he was “Gonna go to the big city and fight crime?” he had answered “Sure!” and then leaned into Jeremiah to whisper, “I’m probably just going to stay here for the rest of my life.”

  • Teddy’s an idiot.


[The sound of stifled giggling] wasn’t coming from the football team (good thing; besides the fact that he had no desire to find out what a giggling fullback sounded like, he had them under strict orders to treat Cynthia and her cohorts with respect; they were welcome to mock him about his harem of octogenarians, so long as they left the octogenarians themselves alone), nor from the girls, who had made room at their booth for four of Jeremiah’s guys.

  • Holy crap, learn how to use semicolons sparingly.


When he came back from the confab (they were apparently having trouble hunting down a jack, though Mr. Grady thought they had a bead on one over in Stanton; as to Dr. Murphy, she was taping up another injury from some kid who’d jumped into a downed fence post, but she’d be by as soon as she was done), he retightened the poncho around Teddy’s arm without bothering to relay the information.

  • Andrea suddenly realized that the scene was already 4,373 words long, and subsequently summarized a boring but necessary conversation leading in to the end of the chapter.


School had been canceled for a grand total of one day, and though the rest of the Banner High Heroes (as the papers had dubbed the kids who had stepped in to save their town – most of whom missed their fifteen minutes of fame, having slept long and hard through the moment that someone over in Megalopolis realized that Banner, NJ had actually done something interesting for once) felt more insulted than gratified by the one-day vacation, Jeremiah didn’t mind getting back to his normal routine.

  • This sentence is 86 unalterable words long.


As always the image was so badly pixilated that Friday couldn’t make out the zits on her face or her eye color (blue, and the only thing she liked about her looks now that her hair – dyed red and cut into what she had recently decided was an ugly A-line – didn’t count), but the reflection moved like her, reacted like her, and Friday’s every movement matched what her reflection had done without her even trying.

  • A description of the main character, shoehorned into the opening scene.


Father thought it a good joke, and did not know how it stung me to hear that his advisors approached him with the estimated costs of building a door-less tower and hiring some sort of beast to guard it (giants, for example, demand deep pockets; Father apparently suggested a dragon, which are notably cheaper – though of course one must take into account the inevitable damages in setting one loose on the kingdom), versus the suggestion that he simply drive me from the castle with nothing but a dress packed into a walnut.

  • King Dad is genre savvy.


There could’ve been racially charged fights—there were enough differences in skin shades in the public schools to fill a crayon box—but it was more likely the school would close because Godzilla had attacked the city or some megalomaniac was threatening utter destruction or the keys to the city now if you please, and that tended to curb gang-related activity.

  • Godzilla is unhindered by ethnic diversity.


Smart and aggressive – the most naturally gifted caster the family had seen in nearly a century – Adam had brought crows streaming into the house as his mother pushed him, squalling, out of her womb, drawn maggots out of the mud as he pulled himself, half-drowned, back on shore when he was six, and two years before, in a fit of screaming rage, the nine-year-old had called his mother’s corpse out of the swamp.

She hadn’t been the only thing that had come: half eaten deer carcasses, the rotting remains of a crocodile that had dragged itself onto land, trailing toes and leg bones like the blocks on a toddler’s pull-string toy, hollowed-out birds, sodden rodents with their eyes gone, and the white vertebrae of hundreds – perhaps thousands – of fish. The swamp regurgitated everything it had swallowed with flesh still on its bones, and the banks had crawled.

  • Remember kids: “nine-year-old” is one word.


And there you have it. Absolute cakewalk, IT Guy.

Fun fact: this entire post, from opening line to final footer (but not counting the title), is made up of 955 words broken into 26 sentences.

MORE boring stuff

I’ve created that “For Sale” tab I threatened you guys with last week – even put up some darling little dollar signs, in case anyone was confused what the words “For Sale” meant. I’ll probably mess around with the opening paragraph later, but as lunch is calling, it will have to wait. So will a better post.

Actually, you know what? Here’s me seriously scraping the bottom of the barrel*: an old homework assignment from college.

Page 184, #3: make longer sentences of these short sentences, using sensual details.

The old man sat in the park.

The old man, his eyes full of years, the cracks breaking from their corners to his cheeks, filled with laughter and old salt, sat with his hand rubbing softly against the planks of the seat, dipping in and out of the crevasses, fingers pattering along the grain, as though the old wood bench had grown as slowly and majestically as the rest of the trees in the park.


She was crying.

She was crying, but there was more to it than that, like the dull color of her hair when she was sad, the glittering clearness of her eyes, and the tears as they dripped down her chin and pooled into the soft dip above the bones that made up her smooth, pale collar.


He loved everything about the woods.

He loved—and how he loved, with softly brown curls that shook with the turn of his head, with a mouth that pinched in the corner just like his mother’s had done—but unlike his mother, who loved the scrape of building on sky, he loved everything, from the deep green of the shadows in the trees and the muffled, carpeted floor that smelled of tangy pine, about the woods.  And that was his father’s gift.


I’m terrified of                        .

I’m terrified of failure, of rejection, of knowing I could not do anything to succeed, of proving to myself that I should have never put myself forward, let them see what I had and what I didn’t, bare me open to my breastbone, and I fear this all, the terror boiling deep in the back of my throat, until the day I wake up and realize I should have feared never trying.


It was a beautiful day.

It was the shadows, swallowing themselves under the stones along the shore, making a sound almost like the water that rolled in quiet waves onto the lake edge (except that there is no sound quiet enough to truly describe the deepness of it), making the reddish swirls of the pebble themselves streak like precious metals, that made it a beautiful day.


*You’ve never seen me do that before.

Wax Long and Throw the Bull

I’ve always wanted a platform from which I could share my unsolicited opinion. Now that I have one I find that I’m not sure what to say. Goodness knows I’ll come up with something – I’ve always had a knack for filling empty space.

Actually, this is what made me so successful in school. Multiple choice questions made me want to weep because I could think of several different ways to argue that the answer could be a, b, or c, depending on the motivation of the teacher who wrote the question in the first place. Unfortunately, I didn’t study quite enough to know my information down cold, so I’d end up second-guessing myself and later discovering that I should have gone with my gut. I can hear my sister yelling at me from across a couple of states that you should always go with your gut on multiple choice questions, but experience has taught me otherwise; every time I chose to un-second guess myself, it turned out the second guess was correct and I’d end up gnashing my teeth over my answers later, annoyed that I had gone with the wrong gut feeling.

But give me an essay question and I’m golden. I could answer a question I didn’t know the actual answer to and end up with full points. I did this by pulling out every piece of information on a subject I knew, and wording it in such a way that the teacher would assume that I’d known the correct answer all along and just padded it with extra information. It used to make my sister burning mad when I trotted out this skill. She’s a science writer by nature, which means that she studies hard and answers questions in succinct, simple sentences. The fact that I could not know an answer but convince someone that I did annoyed her – and made her laugh too, more grudgingly than admiringly, I think – to no end. At the end of the day she had the better grades, but I was just half a step behind her with less effort.

Of course, when I finally did have to take a couple of labs for my biology minor in college, my TAs destroyed my papers. I absolutely loathe science writing because it doesn’t allow me to say anything with the remotest bit of color. I would explain the methods that I used to obtain my results like I was writing an English paper, and I’d get back comments on comments written in red ink telling me to say it straight. Unfortunately, they had discovered that I didn’t have enough to say to fill ten pages. Fortunately, no one else ever did.

Point in fact, the science paper version of this little story should go: Andrea likes essay questions better than multiple choice questions. This is because she knows how to throw the bull.

So, uh, fair warning. I can make a short story very long. You’ll undoubtedly discover that soon enough.