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Long Story: Write About What You Know

January 28, 2013
Bridges Bikini Contest, August 2008.

When I was in tenth grade, I knew nothing about women (I probably still don’t), but since I was writing a short story about a girlfriend, I had to pretend to be an expert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My tenth grade English teacher Mr. Faggins (pronounced Fay-guns) often suggested that we students write about what we knew.  The problem was that my main character in “Long Story” (the story I was writing for Mr. Fay-guns’s class) had a girlfriend, and I didn’t, and everybody in my class knew that I didn’t.  I had to be careful, especially with the possibility that I would read my story aloud.

If the girlfriend in my story sounded fake, then everybody would be reminded that I didn’t have a girlfriend, so I had to make the girlfriend sound realistic.

I had friends who had girlfriends, and all those friends did was complain about them.  It was an easy solution once I thought of it.  I simply took a bunch of the complaints about girlfriends (except for the complaint about venereal disease because that would have gotten me in trouble at school) and put them into “Long Story.”

*****

Long Story

Chapter 3

Girl Talk

It had been three weeks since Melinda became my girlfriend, and in that time I learned that Melinda was great at talking.  I had a teen phone line in my bedroom, and she kept me up until 2:00 or 3:00 every morning.  I loved her voice.  I still did.  I could listen to it forever.  Each emotion brought out a different sensation in my ear, and her emotions changed in an instant.

She talked about her puppies. She talked about her sisters, and her parents, and other kids at school, and her teachers.  She talked about becoming a veterinarian.  A veterinarian?  How could she become a veterinarian when she couldn’t even complete simple math problems?  I never asked her that.  I just kept the phone to my ears and listened.

She talked nonstop when we walked home from school every day.  We always took the long way to avoid the Curse brothers, and so far my strategy had worked.  Last week the Curse brothers had beaten up a kid outside a video game arcade, but that place was way off our route home.  I hadn’t seen even a glimpse of the Curse brothers in the last few weeks. Life should have been great.

But my grades were going down. These late nights on the phone were killing me at school.  I couldn’t concentrate in class.  My math teacher had called on me one day, and I couldn’t answer the question.  I just stared vacantly.  Then the teacher called on Melinda, and she just stared vacantly too.  The whole class laughed at us.  I would have laughed, but it wasn’t funny.  Report cards were coming out soon.  If I failed math, my parents were going to take away my teen line, and then I wouldn’t be able to listen to Melinda’s voice anymore.

One day the counselor called me to her office during study hall.  She had long graying hair, and was kind of skinny, and she had a runny nose.  It didn’t run down to her lip like it does with some of my friends, but she sniffled a lot really loud.

“Danny,” she said.  “Your grades have… dropped drastically over the last few weeks.”

She put her paperwork down and looked me in the eyes.  “Is there… anything… you… need to tell me?”

“No, ma’am,” I answered.  “I’ve just been tired lately.”

“Is… everything… okay at home?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.  “The problem is that I’ve got a girlfriend.”

“Oh,” she said.  Like everybody else I knew, she was surprised I had a girlfriend.  “Does she… take… a lot of your time?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The counselor nodded and gave me a huge stack of papers.  “These… are the missing assignments from… the last three weeks.  You need to get all of this work done before… the end of the grading period in order to… pass.”

“When is that?”

“Friday,” she answered.

“What?”  That was in two days.  I knew that I could do it, but it would be a lot of work.  For two straight nights I’d have to go straight home and do nothing but homework.  I could do it.

“You can’t do that,” Melinda protested at her locker after school.  “You have to spend time with me.”

“We can talk this weekend,” I said, almost frantic.  “But I have to do my homework tonight.”

“You’d rather do your homework than spend time with me?”  She folded her arms and looked down at me, even though I was taller than her.

“If I don’t do my homework, then I’ll never be able to spend time with you again.”  That was a dramatic statement, but I thought it had a chance of working.

“At least get me a malt at the ice cream shop,” she demanded.

“I have to go straight home.”

“Then at least walk me home first.”

“I have to go straight home!”

“Then call me when you get home.”

“I need to get all my homework done before I call you.  I promise, I’ll call when I’m done.”

Melinda must not have believed me because my teen line was ringing when I got home.

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” she said.

Her voice still caused tingles to go down my neck and back, but I was getting annoyed.  “I told you I have to do my homework before I talk to you.”

A few minutes later she called again.  “Are you mad at me?  You sounded mad at me when you hung up.”

This time I disconnected the phone.

The door bell rang about 30 minutes later.

“No,” I said, slamming my pencil down on the dining room table where I was doing my homework.   “Please don’t be her,” I repeated as I trudged to the front door.  “Please don’t be her.”

It was her.

“We need to talk,” Melinda said.  “You can’t just hang up on me like that.  That was very rude.”

I didn’t realize that I had hung up on her.  “I really have to get my homework done.”  I was whining.  I could feel it.  I couldn’t stand the tone of my own voice, it was so whiney.

“Invite me in,” she said.  “I’m not a vampire.  We can do our homework together.”

“You don’t do homework.  You don’t care about homework.”

She smiled.  “Then walk me home.  It will take you longer to argue with me than it will to walk me home.”

She was probably right about that.  I was starting to wonder if she was as dimwitted as she acted.  So I took a deep breath, and I walked her home that afternoon.

And this is where it became a really long story.

*****

To be continued in  Long Story: Content Not Suitable For Children .

Or to start “Long Story” from the beginning, read Long Story: Teachers with Funny Last Names .

From → Long Story

11 Comments
  1. I saw somebody make a post about ‘write what you know’. He quoted an established author who said it is smarter to ‘write what you feel’. I have to agree because I think a major goal of a writer is to connect with a reader and evoke emotions. I write fantasy books, so that makes more sense to me considering I lack the ability to cast magic and I’ve never met a dragon or a goblin in my life.

    • I agree with you (and the established author) despite the title of this section of the story. In tenth grade, I didn’t know much about having a girlfriend, so I had to pretend (through the experiences of my friends) what it was like. It evoked some intended laughter when I read the story to the class.

  2. “Write what you know” is stupid advice. The best writers are those who can create something from absolutely nothing…not a seed, not a shadow, nothing. Why do you think Stephen King’s books are so terrible now? Because he’s told all the interesting stories he had to tell about himself. How many damn stories about Maine can one reader stand?

    • I agree with most of what you say here, but it’s tough to think of Mr. Faggins (pronounced “Fay-guns) giving me stupid advice. The lesson? Teachers can be full of it just like everybody else.

  3. I totally agree that writing what you know is stupid. How about “write what you want and then do research if you have to.”

  4. I find “writing what you pretend to know” to be a lot more interesting.

  5. “She folded her arms and looked down at me, even though I was taller than her.” Brilliant! I had to laugh at this because I’ve had this happen to me, but I could never express it so perfectly. Kudos, sir.

  6. Great observations about girlfriends! lol, well done.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Long Story: The Curse Brothers | Dysfunctional Literacy

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