How to Write Interesting Fiction About the Person Who Ate Your Heart for Breakfast

15 Apr

by Pearlsha Abubakar

I’m not talking about Hannibal Lecter, but someone who was NOT as cool, colorful, brilliant, and intelligent. Otherwise, that person wouldn’t have left you, right? But still, you are compelled to write about him. Not because you’re a sadomasochist. OK, maybe you are, just a little. But most probably, you desperately want to understand what the hell happened – and have some good, clean fun while you’re at it. Here are some tips to help you along.

Do not tell all. After your man cut up your heart and eats it for breakfast, you may become very tempted to write an excruciatingly detailed account of your anguish, pass it off as fiction, and get it published the very next day. Unless you are Kris Aquino, resist the urge to tell the whole world about him. Do not use template-type titles like “Song for Eric” or “Song for Anna” or even the anagram or initials of his name, no matter how cleverly mangled. Instead, leave it blank, i.e. “Song for ___.” People might even appreciate your attempt at interactivity.

Recall the least emotional episodes. Scenes of bruxism, tearing of hair, and sobbing are the universal hallmarks of love (and telenovelas) gone wrong. Everybody knows that already. The real gem is in details. Write about the first time you saw your toothbrush lying alongside his in the medicine cabinet. Or how it took years for him to finish off his cologne because he didn’t want to mask the scent of the fabric softener on his clothes. Or how his eyes were still half-open when he slept. The least emotional episodes in your real life will be the most powerful ones in your fiction.

Kill him slowly. It’s not very sophisticated to poison your former lover’s favorite dog in real life to avenge yourself. But by all means, go ahead and turn him into a talking, spit-dribbling pit bull in your fiction. Weave all your painful “what-if” scenarios into a delicious precautionary tale – make your character stay with her incorrigible womanizer of a husband; or make her lose everything for one night of illicit passion; make it so viscerally painful and unpalatable that no woman in her right mind would even dare think about making the mistake. Good luck.

Write in the third person. Restraint, subtlety, mystery, elegance. These are the qualities you can never have in real life, but can create some semblance of in your fiction. Use an omniscient voice. Guide your persona not to make the same mistakes you did. The cargo truck is always right: keep your distance.

Make effective use of clichés. As much as you want your heartbreak of a song or story to be unique and powerful, you must understand and accept that other people have already beaten you to it. Proust, Homer, Beauvior, Rilke, Beethoven, Joni Mitchell, to name just a few. Therefore, you must know all the clichés by heart, and learn how to restate them beautifully. For instance, an absurdist twist can be made from a cliché “love is blind” by making love the name of your character, a blind masseuse looking for love, who finds it in a customer with severe back pain.

Borrow characters from ancient literature. Again, it’s about cultivating humility, for others have already been where you are. Turn to mythology, the Bible or even the Koran for archetypes of that person who ate your heart for breakfast. Is he a player Paris? A fiery Apollo? Jealous god of the Hades? Beautiful Joseph who spurned Queen Zulaika? Incestuous Lot? Or a little of everything? Use archetypes as a basis for your character sketch. You never know which god will turn up on your doorstep.

Respond promptly to comments. Finally, you’ve been published and/or heard. Everyone has heard your song or read your love story full of irony, sadness and cutting witty. Days later, the person who ate your heart for breakfast e-mails you for the first time in years to say that he absolutely loves your work. Promptly thank him and wait until you get home before engaging in acts of delusion (i.e. wishfully thinking “Did he say he loved my work, or is it another way of saying that he still loves me?”) Bask in the delicious pain of memory. Then write again.

(For C, R and Y – it will get better with time.)

– Two Thumps UP!!!!!

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Essay



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: