Just write the first draft, they say. Unleash your imagination, they say. What could go wrong?, they say.
As you’ll see from this first draft of my Writers of the Future Mission story, pretty freaking wrong is exactly where it could go.
Here’s my haywire first draft, in my protagonists words. (Forgive him for cursing. He’s kind of stressed out.)
The First Draft. (Now That’s Just Wrong).
I shouldn’t tell you this. It’s the kind of thing people hide when they retell a story. But I’m going to tell you anyway.
It was the worst night of my life. No, scratch that. It was the repeat of the worst night of my life and worst than the first one.
Jesus, I’m babbling again. Look, here’s what happened…
I’d been kidnapped by some old friends. I didn’t know at the time they were old friends. I was sure I’d only met one of them before. And even though it turns out I was right, I was also really wrong.
Actually, let me start over.
God, how do you tell a story like this? Okay. They kidnapped me. Madeleine, a beautiful woman I’d known in school and recently started back up with, and her rotten little niece, Dana.
Those two, and Brutus.
Now Brutus was an odd choice for a crony. He’s a motorcycle man. A “biker,” I guess. The kind of man who runs dope and beats women. I’m assuming. A proud—as he would say in his stupid deep voice—“one-percenter.” Whatever that means.
But he was working for these two. The women. I didn’t know why at first. I thought, actually, that he was running them. But what could I do about it? I was half his size. Less, even. And I’ve never been accused of being the warrior type. Or much of a fighter at all, really.
Have I mentioned how big he was?
Anyway, it started out weird. My story that night. We’d travelled out to a place where I’d been abducted sixteen years previous. Bear with me. The backstory is important, I promise. I’d been abducted by aliens. I’m serious. Please, don’t laugh. I’m not crazy. At least, I was there to prove that I wasn’t crazy.
Like I said, the night started out weird. And it just got weirder.
It unravelled into…something. God, I don’t know what. You be the judge, okay? This is what I remember.
“No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!” My head whipped forward. Pain blossomed on my crown. Was I babbling? I must have been babbling. Who else would have been saying no in my voice?
“Dude. Man up, will you?” That was Brutus. He had me by the back of my collar. Gave me a rough shake like some annoying puppy. This close, he was a bear and me the dear. The not-so-dear. His furrowed brow looked more annoyed under that sweaty bandana than angry. How could he be so calm?
What he said had the intended effect though. It shamed me. I’m not immune to criticism about my masculinity. It’s just I don’t usually surround myself with people who note its lack out loud.
I did try to calm down. My breathing came ragged. I gagged. The black spots finally cleared from my vision. Grass and trees took their place. The ground righted itself. All three of them were staring at me with their eyebrows raised. Like I was an idiot. I’m not an idiot.
“I know where we are,” I said finally. The trees were bigger. But the clearing was the same. Like it was frozen in time. Like nothing ever came here. But that was stupid thinking. This wasn’t magic. Or supernatural. It was just aliens. I realize that sounds pretty stupid. It made sense at the time.
“Why would you bring me here?” I looked at Dana when I said this because I’d long since gathered she was calling the shots. Her pigtails swayed when she turned to look at me. How she had Brutus under her thumb was a mystery. And I’m not sure I wanted to know. But at this point, fuck it, right?
“Same reason we brought you the first time.”
What the fuck? That’s what I wanted to say. I didn’t say it. I was hoping I’d misheard her. Because how could anything like that be possible? I also didn’t say, so it was you assholes who abducted me that night, or but I’ve never met you before or what do you mean, ‘the first time’? Because, fuck, I knew what she meant.
“Oh, no surprise, huh?” Dana said.
“When did you figure it out?” Madeleine asked.
“I mean, I didn’t. I just…What do you want from me?”
And here’s where it gets weird.
“Good question. As soon as the author figures it out, I’ll let you know.” Dana said.
What kind of story was this?
They all looked off into space. Brutus checked his watch. Madeleine scrolled through Pinterest on her cell phone. Dana squatted on her haunches like a kid and watched an army beetle attack a range of ants. She even twirled her hair. As though she were in fact a child. Though I knew she wasn’t. And I’m thinking the author was starting to figure that out too.
“So who is she, then?” The author asked. “Who is Dana?”
The voice just popped into my head. The author’s. And at this point, after aliens and gunfights and bikers without bikes, I just sort of went with it, okay? I mean, bitches were reading my mind. I’d punched a woman in the face. What the fuck?
So I answered her.
“I think she’s a fucking alien.”
“I know she’s an alien,” said the author. “I figured that out two nights ago before I fell asleep. But, like, what is she doing here? Why were you “abducted” sixteen years ago? Why did she bring you back here now?”
“You mean she didn’t drag me here because of my stellar good looks? You’d kidnap me too.” I ran my hands through my thick mane. I get it cut in Los Angeles. It’s a three hour drive. Two if you drive like me.
“Please. I don’t even know what you look like,” said the author. That floored me. How could she not know what I look like?
“You don’t know much about this story, do you?”
“Give me a break. This is my first time. Well, not my first, first time. I’ve never written seat of my pants before.”
“Is that why this story is all over the place?”
“Yeah. Probably. It’s just, it never comes out after I outline. Like I’ve already figured out what’s going to happen, so why write it?”
I had zero pity for her. Waaa, I thought. I’ve just been abducted again. Your petty writing issues aren’t really high on my priorities list.
“You’re better at outlines.”
“No. I’m not. They never come out right.”
“No, really. I’m telling you. Cause this story meanders. Like, a lot.”
“Dude. Shut up. I’m trying, okay?”
“I even talk like you. What’s up with that?”
“Characterization comes in the next draft. This is the first draft. It doesn’t really count.”
“How do you know? You said you’ve never written before.”
“I’ve read books. About writing. And I do have some practice.”
I rolled my eyes. Flabbergasted, I guess. Mostly I just didn’t want to talk to her anymore. She was kind of annoying. And not really inspiring confidence. Like, at all.
I guess she asked Dana then, because Dana started talking out loud. But it’s not like I thought it was weird or anything.
“I brought him here to die,” she said. Dana said that, I mean.
“Try again,” said Madeleine in the author’s voice.
“I brought him here to make love with me.”
“What the fuck?” I said. “You’re like twelve.”
The women gave me an eat-shit look. I knew Dana wasn’t twelve. She had to be at least fifteen. But, come on, was that any better?
“Yes, he’s my father,” Dana said.
“Ha! I’m pretty sure I never fucked Madeleine. Um. Back then I mean,” I said. “I’d remember.”
“Sorry, handsome.” Madeleine said. “I know you don’t remember me. But…”
“Madeleine’s my mother.” Dana said.
“Do we really have to reveal this in this particular way? It’s anticlimactic,” said Madeleine.
“Stop complaining,” Dana said in the author’s voice. “You get what you get. It’s the first all-the-way-through story I’ve written. And it sucks. It’s okay if it sucks. Those are the rules I set for this story. Sure, I didn’t think it would suck quite this bad. But whatever. I can’t go back on my word now.”
“So, what then? My entire life has to suffer because you couldn’t be bothered to make a better big reveal at the end? Come on, I wanted to be famous,” I said. I was tired of getting shit on.
“Then you should have picked a more experienced author,” the author said. She wasn’t speaking in Madeleine’s voice anymore. Her voice just seemed to come out of nowhere.
“Could you just, you know, appear? Because it’s hurting my neck to look for your voice everywhere.”
“Stop looking for it then. You don’t need to look to hear me.”
“No, dude. I haven’t showered today. My hair is a mess. I’m in the middle of cooking dinner in a Bakersfield summer. It’s so not happening.”
“I’m not talking to you till you show up,” I said. I was putting my foot down. Literally. I stomped my foot on the ground. Crossed my arms over my chest. I mean, was I on a toughen-up character arc or wasn’t I? Right? You get me.
“Fuck,” said the author. So she was a cusser. Could have guessed that one. And she really didn’t want to appear, I guess. Too much work, probably. She did seem like a lazy author. I hadn’t seen much setting detail all day or night. And I—
“That’s not even my name!” I said.
“What is your name then, damn it?!”
“You’ve been calling me Doctor Stein. Remember?” Couldn’t even be bothered to give me a first name. Told you. Lazy.
And then there she was. Kinda shorter than I imagined for all that bluster. But look at that hair color. Must be the first thing people notice about her. A little heavy. If I’m honest, I noticed that first. But don’t tell her so. She’d probably toss me into a nuclear reactor at the climax. You’ve read George RR Martin. Protagonists aren’t safe anymore.
“Come on,” she said. “I’ve lost eighty pounds. Don’t I get credit for that?”
Why is it always so surprising when people turn out to be fat? Especially women. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s usually the heavy ones who are bossy. I imagined what she’d be like in bed.
“Ew,” she said. “Don’t do that.”
Don’t be impressed. I imagine what everybody would be like in bed. I’d guess that she was imaginative, probably. Being a writer and all.
“Stop it, Dr. Stein!”
“What?” She got my name right this time at least. Maybe she was interested.
“And why is it that everyone can read my god damn mind today?” I said.
“I can’t read your mind,” said Madeleine.
“I wonder what that means,” the author and I said at the same time. But instead of bringing us closer, the author just glared at me.
“No, Doctor Stein, I’m not interested,” said the author. “Why do you have to think about sleeping with everybody all the time?” I felt her words like a slap of cold injustice.
“It’s not my fault! You created me!” I said. I was fuming now. I’m sure she was horrible in bed.
“I hardly created you,” she snorted. “You’re a mashup of Dr. Gauis Baltar and men I’ve met in life.”
“Men you’ve slept with?”
“Jesus.” She threw her hands into the air as if to say ‘I give up!’ Her eyebrows scrunched together in frustration. Mouth downturned in a frown. Hmm, fairly sculpted, those brows. Must have them threaded. My fingers would get tangled in that wild mass of hair though. Bet she has that problem all the time. People wanting to touch that hair and getting snarled in it instead.
Her eyes closed. Her nostrils flared. She shook her head slowly. Then her eyes popped open. “Wait. I have a phone call,” she said. She looked relieved. Then she disappeared.
And that’s it.
I know she didn’t delete the story file, because we’re still here. Standing around, watching the bugs crawl through the flattened clearing. We don’t know where we’re going. I wonder if there’s another file out there. Copied and pasted and then finished. Little copies of us with their story completed. All tied up into a neat, sensible little bow. Precisely characterized. Epically plotted. Deep thematic statements about life and death and whatever. While we sit here, copies of copies of copies, never to be visited again.
But she didn’t erase us. That matters, right? She didn’t erase us…
I knew she wanted to sleep with me.
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