Today, for your amusement, I’m going to dissect the first draft of a story that leapt into my mind while I was dreaming*, and see how that – coming up with and developing a story – actually works. Disclaimer: this is a very, very rough first draft, and shouldn’t be read like a finished text. I’m presenting it as a study piece.
*= yeah, I know, I also hate people wh0 say things like ‘it came to me in a dream’. True story though, in this case. I dreamed only two or three sentences; the rest I made up afterwards.
“The way I see it, you’re pushing the cart all the way uphill, boy,” the carrier says to Taylor. “Sooner or later, somethin’s gotta snap.”
I’m carrying the bowling bag, two polished coconuts within. ‘I’ve got a heavy ballsack’ got old after five times making the rounds. I’m tired of looking like a fucking caddy. Taylor and the carrier, a stick of dried meat with sultanas for eyes, sit on the last two bar stools like lazy kings, talking crap. “You ain’t got what it takes,” Taylor said when they chased us from the Ramada Inn. “You carry the balls this time.” So I’m carrying balls and smiling like a retard. But when we get the meat stick into the parking lot I’ll smash him and we’ll finally get paid, goddammit.
A woman walks in and engulfs the lobby. She’s got an ass like a jamboree drum. Her tits flop around in her top, in dire need of some heavy-duty brasiering. If the carrier stood in front of her he could be a pillar with a tit on top. I could be the other one. We’d walk when she walked, turn when she turned. At night we’d lay with our heads in her armpits and tit flesh covering our faces like a duvet.
I’m holding her tits now, and the bag with the balls, and I’m pulling it all down with me into a fleshy embrace, and when I come back up for air we’re in the elevator. “You’re not cut out for this, son,” the woman says. I push her head back and it snaps from her neck, hanging down like a fleshy cape. I fuck her like that, with her head laying on the floor like an afterthought. But when she gets up her head snaps back like packman, and now she’s out for me and my balls, the castrating fever on her, snap snap snap and there’s nowhere to run.
With a mighty thump the bowling bag slides from my shoulder and crashes into the floor. The carrier cocks his head. “I think your balls are on the floor, son.”
Taylor gets up, red in the face, pulling me by the arm. The manager runs in and does a little dance around the bag behind us, but we’re through the sliding doors and out of there. When we stop running Taylor hits me. “We lost the fucking balls, man!”
“I know.” I can’t stop laughing. My balls are all over the world, I want to say, my balls are command and conquer. But instead I say: “Maybe he was right.”
“The carrier. We’re not cut out for this.”
How it came about
So this is what I dreamt:
“The way I see it, you’re pushing the cart all the way uphill, boy. Sooner or later, somethin’s gotta snap.”
I’m carrying the bowling bag, two hard polished coconuts within. ‘I’ve got a heavy ballsack’ got old after five times making the rounds.
A woman walks in and engulfs the lobby. She’s got an ass like a jamboree drum. […] Her head snaps back like pacman.
I have no idea why these sentences popped into my head. Sometimes I dream in words, as if I’m overhearing a conversation by accident. When I woke up the sentences were still there, and felt vital to me, so I couldn’t resist working on them.
Then what happened is I remembered a promise to my friend Chris, to write her a Bukowski-rip-off. By no means is this Bukowski, but the tone reminded me of him – perhaps because of that promise, I haven’t read him in years – and that kind of emboldened me to explore this kind of atmosphere.
I then needed somebody to say the first quote, and I needed somebody to carry the bowling bag. It was clear to me that they had to be two persons: the person carrying the bowling bag was an underdog type, and the person saying the quote was a fatherly or streetwise type.
What I don’t like (yet)
Reading back I can see that once I had the streetwise person (the carrier) and the ‘loser’, I then lost myself in the backstory. The two boys with the bowling bag are trying to strike some type of deal and getting kicked out of hotels, while the carrier sees through them and is offering some (dissuading) advice in the first sentence.
What I don’t like is that I really want to focus on the guy slipping into a daydream about the woman with the big ass. The backstory I created thus far is both way too vague – even I couldn’t tell you what is going on there exactly – and too detailed. It distracts from the daydream without having a good excuse for taking up so much of the reader’s attention.
Of course this is also due to the fact that I didn’t know what I was going to say before I started writing. I just wanted to write the sentences into a scene and focus on a kind of crude, erotic daydream. I didn’t bother figuring out a theme just yet. Oh yeah, and the last thing I don’t like, is that it isn’t clear – I think – that the daydream is a daydream. Right now the whole thing is just too confusing to tell the situation from the thoughts.
What I do like
There is a vitality in the characters and the tone that I really like. Also I like the play on the word ‘balls’ and the theme of ‘having balls’. If I’d develop this further I think it would hinge on contrasts: the guys trying to strike a deal ‘lack balls’ in the real world, and literally lose their balls in the last two paragraphs. In the daydream, however, there is no lack of balls; it kind of serves to help the main character discover that he really does have balls, after all, even though he’s just lost them.
I also like the misogynistic and funny nature of the daydream. I think I was kind of scared – maybe because I’m a woman? – to REALLY take that to the edge. It’s too brief and neatly folded in on itself. In a next draft I’d take that further.
All in all, I think the story is a snack-type thing, not important enough to develop into something longer or really well-rounded. It’s really just a joke, a play on the title, ‘Balls’. So it needs to remain pretty short and clear: touch and go.
Oh, and what I like most of all is the simile her head laying on the floor like an afterthought.
How to take it further
I think I need to make some decisions on the backstory. Are these guys trying to sell antique bowling balls? That would be kind of funny and a nice prissy contrast with the violent, lustful daydream.
One part of me wants to make the backstory really clear and one-dimensional – another part wants to keep it very vague and fragmented. It would be cool if the whole thing was associative and, like, fleshy, or maybe ballsy. I think I’d have to work on striking a balance between keeping it vague and keeping it simple, so that the vagueness doesn’t distract, as it does now. Yeah, I’d like that.
As for the daydream, that needs to be longer and maybe reveal a little bit more about the protagonist. Right now it’s too generic, I think. Also, this is the part of the story that interests me the most. I think it’s also the most challenging thing to write about for me. The feeling of relating to women as objects, and to sex as an almost grotesquely mechanical thing, is well-known but also a little taboo in my mind. I’d like to explore that.
I’d like to write as a horny dude, I guess is what I’m trying to say.
Thoughts and notes
WRITING IS A CRAFT. It’s not enough to be verbose or have good intuition and throw something onto the paper: that’s just a starting point. It’s important to go beyond the initial layer, and you need craft to help you go where you do not know the way.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Develop the part that interests you most, first. Don’t get stuck in the logic of things (like I tend to do). It’s not your job to solve the puzzle, but to bring it into focus as a puzzle. Diving into what appeals to you will help keep you going. Or in other words: be juicy first and dry later.
ICKY BALLS. Write what you don’t dare. Keep going until it chafes.
Okay, I’ll stop with the sex jokes now.
Good luck if you’re going to use this to write down your own dreams, and I’ll keep you posted on future drafts!