Yesterday, I wrote a post about an everyday hero (click HERE to read that). Today we’ll apply it to how you write one that’s real and true and memorable.
Here’s what happens. Stuff happens and a kid notices. Bad stuff. Bullying. Name calling. Picking on weaker kids. He is a kid and it happens to him, too, and he sees it happen to others. It’s an uneasy feeling. He’s carrying a bucket that starts filling up, and he decides he wants that bucket empty – or at least to not keep filling – and one day he starts to act. That’s all it is. That’s your hero. That’s how he gets to become a hero in your story. And since at some point we’ve all had a fat girl moment or the Jewish kid moment, we draw on that and create a realistic hero that any reader can identify with.
If yesterday’s post hooked you, it’s because you believed it (good story) and you trusted me to take it somewhere interesting (good writing). And because it feels true, the essence of good writing.
You can do that. Take what happened to you and swap out the small stuff and drop in something appropriate to your story. We’ve all had bad stuff happen. The emotions stay the same; the objects change for the needs of the story.
Last weekend, I went to the city that is known for being the highest tourist attraction city in the world. We went to two of the world’s most popular theme parks.
I won’t name them because the parks themselves are irrelevant. (One is Magical and the other is Sea themed, okay?)
It’s the people we met at the parks that are relevant.
At the first magical park, we had a blast and were finally leaving, waiting in line for the mass transit system to take us to the parking lots. As you might guess, at the end of a long, hot Florida day, the crowds were thick and the people were tired. We were leaving kinda early because we and our friends wanted an early dinner for our young children. I mention that because it was not 9 PM or 11 PM. This place does not serve alcohol. It was about five or five-thirty in the afternoon. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was crowded. Yes, I was a little cranky myself, but when you have a six-year-old you have to keep your own crankiness in check so you can keep in check the kid’s crankiness. But our children were fine because one six-year-old little girl will almost certainly be in a good mood if there’s another six-year-old little girl with her.
However, as we stood in line to board the monorail, two relatively large ladies, a mom and a daughter, it seemed, pushed their way past us.
Again, I was focused on my family and friends so I couldn’t care less. In fact, many, many times that day the two husbands stood in line while the two wives ran with the two little girls to the bathroom and then guess what? The two moms and two girls had to politely make their way through the line to join up with the men. Not a big deal.
So, in what appeared to be a mother and daughter, both of whom were – I’ll just say it: they were big. They were fat. It wasn’t a secret and it doesn’t matter anyway. Because I don’t care if they’re big or fat. I care about people being nice to each other. And at the end of a long hot day, somebody else in the crowd decided not to be as humane as me. They said or did something to those women as they passed.
Now, in fairness, not every jerk understands that two people might have needed to go to the bathroom and are simply catching up with the rest of their party. Nobody likes line cutters. And at the end of the day two people pushing ahead of you in line isn’t probably going to make you miss the train. And if it does, there’s another one in about 60 seconds so cool your fucking jets.
However, this was the end of a long, hot day and not everyone was feeling as charitable in line as me.
Apparently some man said something to the women as they went past. The younger girl, who was probably about 13, took his comments very hard and was trying not cry. Her friends, probably one the mom’s age and the second one a slightly older teenage girl, yelled at the man. He was about 20 feet away, but they were yelling like he was a mile away. He said something back.
Yeah, you see where this is going.
Maybe those viral videos of school kid fights and little league dad fights and psycho mom fights at Target aren’t harmless after all. It was in my head; maybe it was in theirs.
The young friend basically was yelling in a manner that suggested she was about to go down to start throwing punches at him. And as you might guess, nobody wants to see that. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want my daughter to see it, I don’t want my day to end that way, because I’m the kinda guy who’s going to get in the middle of that shit to break it up – and end up going to Magical Land Jail because somebody thought I was throwing punches.
I really, really don’t need that.
But at the moment the two soon-to-be-warring factions we’re separated by about 20 feet. So I said things like hey, it’s Magic Land! Come on the train is here, let’s all calm down.
I said those things loud enough for everyone to hear them. And of course my wife and friends looked at me like why are you getting in the middle of this?
After a few more comments that weren’t necessarily aimed at anyone but were certainly aimed at the pre-feud families, the magic train arrived and the crowd started moving. I had the opportunity to pass the large lady and her large 13-year-old daughter.
The girl was still trying hard to not cry.
I looked young woman right in the eye and I said, “You need to understand something. You had a great day today and you’re probably gonna have a great day tomorrow – and that person is miserable and how they lashed out is not right but they have to go home to their miserable existence and you get to go on and have a good time with yours. Understand, the problem is with them not with you.” More words were said and basically the group thanked me. I did it in a way that the asshole guy might have heard or seen.
The next day, we were at a different park. I went into the restroom to find some towels because that’s how this particular park does their beach stuff, hiding towels in the bathrooms instead of out by the chairs where they’d be easily accessible, and when I came out I noticed a young boy about eight years old sitting outside the restroom.
The only reason that young boy is sitting outside a restroom is because he’s waiting for his mom to come out.
And he was Jewish. How did I know? He was wearing a yarmulke. That’s the little cap thing really devout Jews wear when they go to a water park. They don’t take it off. He was a cute kid, too, and the yarmulke was an awesome shade of bright blue, almost a deep turquoise. I wonder if the kid gets to pick it themselves? I’d have picked that color. It’s my favorite. It was probably his. I bet that’s why he picked it.
Eight years old. Just two years older than my daughter. He could almost pass for that kid she has a crush on, the one she roller skated with.
And he was waiting patiently for his mother, I assumed. Something no 8 year old boy wants to be doing; they want to be in the water with their friends.
As I passed him, I heard some men talking rather loudly in a foreign language. Swedish or German. I turned around and saw one of the men pointing and laughing at the Jewish boy, then the man danced a little jig in a mocking style to make his group laugh. Two men and two young boys, younger than the child they were making fun of. My eyes immediately went to the Jewish boy and the expression on his face said it all. He was deeply hurt and embarrassed and doing his best not to show it. He looked at me and his eyes were a little larger than they were a minute ago.
Having two full-grown adult males pointing and laughing at you with nothing but 20 feet of concrete in between them and you, and your protectors are nowhere in sight, it’s not a fun place to be.
So I stood there. I looked at the boy not with the mocking jeers of the foreigners who were making fun of him but with a calm face. He probably knew that this man with towels in his hand had somewhere to be but was instead standing there about 5 feet away from him. I didn’t intervene. I did not need to. The foreigners eventually left.
I looked at the boy asked where he was from. He hadn’t said a word until then and in a theme park he might be from anywhere; might not speak English.
He was very polite. He stood up and said “Boca” then he added – like he’d been taught, maybe – “I’m from Boca Raton, sir.”
Nice kid. (Who says sir?) I said, “I’m from Tampa.” He smiled and opened his mouth to engage in a conversation but I cut him off, nodding in the direction of where the two men had been. “Stupid people come from all over. You have to learn to shake that stuff off.” As a woman appeared from the ladies room and walked toward us, I held out my hand to the boy. “You did good today.”
We shook hands and he looked down.
It was a situation he didn’t want to be in and maybe he didn’t want to explain. But if you’re going to wear your yarmulke, you’re going to be in situations.
Cap on, Jew. Cap off, Italian. Or maybe Spanish or German or Swedish. Or maybe just a polite 8 year old kid.
He was learning how to be tough about that, but he also learned that maybe you have more allies than you know about.
The world is what we make of it. You don’t have to jump into a yelling match or a bullying episode. You may simply stand there and be a witness or you may be prepared to spring into action if necessary. Or you may simply let a little fucking kid know they are not the one who has the problem. Believe me, everybody who’s been in one of those spots would appreciate it if they were told that they were the brave one and that they don’t have the problem and that some stranger realized it and took that moment to tell them, in these words are others, that you are proud of them. Whether it’s a 13-year-old girl or an eight-year-old boy, it only takes a minute of your life but it may change theirs. I don’t know why I do this stuff. I don’t think that’s why am put on this earth, to be some semi heroic bullshit Lone Ranger who was that masked man type of guy. It’s not the kind of thing I go around bragging about because is not the kind of thing I do very often. But I have a six-year-old kid. And I’d like to think if something happens someone would be there for her. So maybe I’m just making deposits in the karma bank just in case. But I don’t believe that. I don’t think somebody will be there for her just like nobody else was there for those two kids this weekend.
Most heroes are wrong. They think they aren’t special. They are. They act when others don’t, even on small stuff.
I’m not a hero. I’m barely a good example most of the time. It sounds self-serving, too. But I’m gonna own it. In a small way, for a fraction of a moment, I was a hero.
To that boy.
To that girl.
Maybe they won’t remember and maybe they’ll never forget, I don’t know.
I’m not special unless none of you act when your chance happens.
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great upcoming sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to read a sample chapter OR be a beta reader. Click HERE to check out his other works.
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And not cheesy pickup lines from drunks at bars, either, although that might be fun.
No, I’m wondering…
What books had GREAT opening lines?
The last camel died at noon.
Call Me Ishmael.
What books have you read that have great opening lines? Why were they memorable? Or did the best books have mediocre opening lines?
Jaws is one of my fave books ever and its opening line kinda sucks. “The great fish moved silently…” Couldn’t go five words without an adverb. Really, Peter Benchley? Really?
The Godfather starts with “Amerigo Bonasera sat in…” Yawn.
Meanwhile, Killerstarts with “Fuck The Godfather” which, based on its lame opening line… yeah.
A Separate Peace begins “I went back to the Devon school…” YAAWWNN!! Classic? Clasically bad. A good book and a great story, but a lame opening.
Whereas Catch-22 has maybe the most memorable opening line ever: “It was love at first sight.”
Love that. LOVE it.
and The Other begins “How old do you think miss DeGroot really is?” Love that, too. And that’s one scary as hell book.
I’m not saying these are the best books ever, or even the best opening lines. Okay, well, I did imply that about Catch-22. But these are classic books and these are their opening lines – and times have obviously changed.
Nobody would start Jaws that way today. Nobody.
You want a gripper of an opening, and a first paragraph that makes your reader want to read on. It’s not easy. For example, we recently selected the better opening line for my new novel The Navigators (soon to be released – check out a sample chapter HERE) from these two choices:
“Come on.” Barry jumped up from behind his desk. “An archaeological dig at a mine in central Florida is practically like going to the beach.”
“No way.” Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. “You fuckers are crazy.”
Barry jumped up from behind his desk. “Come on. An archaeological dig at a mine in central Florida is practically like going to the beach.”
“B” won, going away!
(I know, I know. You’re not supposed to start a book with dialog. Um, but Tom Sawyer starts that way. So there.)
Whenever you can get input from your readers, DO IT! They are who you’re writing for, after all. This works for book covers and blurbs and opening lines, as we’ll see later this month. You guys will help me make The Navigators the best it can be.
Tell us the opener from a book you loved and let’s see how it held up over time.
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When you get your manuscript ready for press, you need to remove any crazy little characters that somehow got into it – so they don’t f*ck up your eBook formatting, causing, I don’t know, extra pages in the middle of a sentence or something.
The paperback review is even more fun.
The mysterious characters that you know you didn’t put in are hard to find, though, so you have to look carefully.
And look carefully again…
and hope your beta readers find the ones you and your editor miss…
and look carefully again…
Meanwhile, if ONLY there was a list of stuff to look for using the find/replace feature in Word!
Well, since you asked, I found one and took it right from the pages of How To Geek’s website. You’re welcome.
Search String / Searches For
^l (lowercase L) Manual line break
^p Paragraph break
^n Column break
^m Manual page break
^b Section break
^t Tab character – that sucker is EVIL, I tell ya! HOW does that get in there???
As the beta readers work their way through my book, we are getting some really good reports! (Wanna be a beta? There’s still time. Click HERE.)
The Navigators is thrilling as h*ll.
“Didn’t think I would enjoy this book as much as I do, since I’m in for fantasy 9 out of 10. But The Navigators is thrilling as h*ll. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”
A most enjoyable romp
“I’d scheduled two chapters a day, but got through it a lot quicker.”
Grabs you in chapter one and doesn’t let go
Think finding a time machine would be all fun and games? Think again. “The Navigators” is a shining example of what could go wrong. Well written, with characters you can relate to and adventures you will be glad you missed (like being stalked by a saber tooth tiger), Dan Alatorre grabs you in chapter one and doesn’t let go until the very end. You’ll be glad you spent the time to read this book. – Larry Rueschhoff, author of “Surviving the Fall”
There is something in here, something from the spirit of Isaak Asimov and all those days when I started reading science fiction.
It’s a beautiful story!! Beautiful! There is something in here, something from the spirit of Isaak Asimov and all those days when I started reading science fiction. Your story really teleported me back in those distant days. A real time machine!!
I think you are a true story teller, Dan. The writing is so clean, just bare bones story; nothing gets into its way, no words wasted. I noticed that from the very first time I read one of those chapters and I said it right then. And you kept the magic rolling all the way. You definitely strike something inside the reader.
Keep going! You should really think of continuation of The Navigators.
Art Jeffries, Author of “The Collector”
You still have time to be a beta reader and help create a successful launch to The Navigators! Click HERE and get your Advance Review Copy now!