Tissue People

Years ago, when I was judging a contest, and asking older son for a second opinion, because I literally didn’t know how to select winners, period.

It will tell you the general quality of the writing that I ended up giving third prize to what we nicknamed “woman of kleenex.”

You see, there was this woman who was a maid in a Victorian house. The master made improper advances, so she ran. She ran up area stairs, and fell, and it tore holes in her skin. Then she reached the street…. Let’s say by the end of the chapter, she had massive tears in her skin, and was bleeding…. from things no one ever bled of. Mostly because our skin isn’t made of kleenex. If it were, we’d all have bled all day, and probably died of infection.

This rant is brought to you by reading another story yesterday in which a girl going hysterical at a full grown, muscular man not only made him lose an eye (believable since girls can have really long nails) but also breaks his arm, so that his bone protrudes.

Children, gentlemen, ladies and dragons: unless the girl were a giant or a circus freak, and the man was a tiny man, or perhaps had some wasting disease, she couldn’t break his arm to that point without oh, at least a broomstick or a mace. No, seriously.

I recognize the problem with this, and it makes me giggle, because I have a similar one: you see, I can’t remember sizes.

It’s like an endemic problem. I remember things as being wildly different sizes than they are. Including, yes, people.

The problem with this is that I also can’t imagine sizes. So, say, dragons, I have to keep continuously thinking about it to remember their size. Otherwise, they are the size of a bed, the size of a bus, the size of whatever at any given moment.

These people simply don’t have a sense of bodily integrity. And it makes me giggle. Because I wonder if the authors are afraid of walking out of their house, lest they tear to pieces.

Anyway, what is your big failing, and how does it impact your writing or your life?

41 comments

  1. Hell, I’m pretty sure a man of comparable size couldn’t break another man’s arm to the point of a compound fracture. That takes some pretty serious forces and trauma…

    (Brought to you by a true crime podcast: a killer–a sizable young man–liked breaking people’s legs. Even jumping up and down on them didn’t produce protruding-from-the-flesh breaks. Serious trauma, yes, of the sort usually not seen outside of major falls/car accidents. But even so.)

  2. As a person . . . I’m totally inept socially. In person, this leaves me with a pretty thin skin of social support locally. On line much less of a problem.

    As a writer, I understand people . . . I just have difficulty face-to-face. Writing fictional characters? No problem.

    1. THIS.

      And I apparently write gorgeously visceral settings, but the people? In my last book, I described maybe five people’s appearance well enough to see them: four redshirts and the villain. Not the hero or the VPC.

  3. I’m before coffee, and don’t have the sense to boil down my big failing concisely. Shortest I can manage is ‘crazy, and not very functional’, which isn’t a very specific description.

    My writing and my life are both a bit difficult.

    But, everyone has difficulties. What matters is what someone does with his or her own difficulties. And also how sane people are in choosing goals, pursuing goals, and being satisfied with what has been put into the goals chosen.

  4. My Node of Perversity instantly went for a rewrite:

    Me master made improper advances, and now I’m his mistress and live in a fancy townhouse with maids of me own. What’s not to like?

    1. You remind me of The Ruined Maid by Thomas Hardy…

      “O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
      Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
      And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —
      “O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

      — “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
      Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
      And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!” —
      “Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

      — “At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’
      And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now
      Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —
      “Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

      — “Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
      But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
      And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —
      “We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

      — “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
      And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
      To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —
      “True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

      — “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
      And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —
      “My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
      Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

  5. I’m pretty new to this, so I’m not yet sure what my big weakness are, but I do feel like my characters are just flat. I seem to be able to work with existing characters and get some good depth with them, but not on my own.

    Thinking about it, I think what I do when approaching an existing character is go through a what is their public face (stoic, warrior, dutiful servant) and ask what their private face would be like (lonely, missing affection, keeps their own council even when they shouldn’t) and work through the sort of conflicts that could cause (gets involved in things she shouldn’t have because it seemed harmless, now has to fix the mess, also no-one else really fully knows what’s going on because it hasn’t occurred to her to tell them).

    But I don’t think I’ve done that with my own characters very much. I should go try that and see what happens…

  6. Besides a passive-aggressive streak that has been growing wider recently? I second-guess and worry at things too much. My vivid imagination is a blessing and a curse when it is yoked to the tendency to see the worst-possible-outcome as a probably event.

  7. Changing time scales, particularly when going from shorter to longer scales. When I write one scene describing events minute by minute, it feels awkward to “scale up” and then describe the events of the next week or month using the same number of words.

    1. Yeah, and making it clear to the reader is necessary.

      I _hate_ starting a chapter off with “The next three months were peaceful as they resupplied and recuperated . . . ” but it does let the reader take a deep breath and settle into the slower pace.

      1. I’ve got one novella stymied over the fact the that first chapters happen when he’s a boy, and the last when he’s mostly grown, and I can’t fill the gap. All the more in that I do have to let readers know that he grew up, and didn’t make many friends, but learned a lot and made a couple of good ones.

          1. The prologue features his father.

            Too much happens in both halves for that approach.

            Though I am thinking of a Part I and a Part II but then I will have to have the characters talk

  8. My writing remains in my brain (you’re welcome) but my social life is hampered by my inability to remember how old I am in relation to the people around me. Example, my daughter is 16, so I am generally the same age as her friends’ parents, right? Except when that makes me the same general age as my oldest child, because my 16 year old Dragonette is friends with her 15 year old niece.
    So if any of you ever meet me, I will assume we are within a few years of each other as long as your apparent age is somewhere between 21 and 72.

  9. I expect people to try and set aside emotion, and then rationally attempt to deduce the objective truth.

    I don’t know why I’m so emotionally attached to such an obvious falsehood.

  10. > These people simply don’t have a sense of bodily integrity.

    There are endless skateboard, jumping, and parkour videos on YouTube, showing people faceplanting onto concrete without the slightest attempt to roll or protect their faces. It’s like they were raised in a padded cell all their lives, and there’s not even a concept that they might get hurt.

    1. A family member has been known to look at skateboards and dirt-bikes and comment, “This sport brought to you by the American College of Orthopedics and the Bigger-City Maxilo-Facial Reconstruction Clinic, LLC.”

  11. I don’t store and retain faces.

    I might recognize you, if you are in a reasonable location for me to expect to see you, you have the same hair, and you have not significantly changed your body type or fashion sense.

    I think it’s related, but I don’t really picture characters, either. I may keep track of very significant features, but all of those I can think of as examples are height and hair, which are things I key on anyway, (Axel, Ice, Jenna, Michelle . . .) or fashion (Leila, Andre) and now you know what I’ve been rereading lately.

  12. I have no ability to predict what will set people off in my writing. I’ve come to the conclusion it is – everything. I’ve had people complain about my tendency to use Pennsylvania Dutch expressions and thus occasional German syntax. I’ve had a reader assume I was foreign and obviously had no idea what Americans are like or how we live. I’ve had several people go totally ballistic over my using the metric system as evidence of anti-Americanism. I’ve had people accuse me of being both Libertarian and woke though I’ve never belonged to any political party. Some people find all my character the same and some praise the variety.
    I’ve had problems both personal and in writing because I honestly like women and can be friends with one without any attraction. I’ve had people tell me plainly that is impossible. I feel sad for them. Half the human race is not really human to them and inaccessible for anything but sex.
    I’ve also had trouble because I simply refuse to yell and scream about something so my characters rarely behave that way. It’s alien to me. I told a boss a mold he was putting in the press was going to blow up and he just looked at me oddly. I retreated to the restroom behind concrete walls on the other end of the shop.
    When it blew up he looked quizzical and said: “You told me that was going to happen didn’t you?”
    He didn’t listen because I didn’t yell and get excited. It almost killed him.
    I’d had experiences in real life I’d never put in a book because fiction has to be believable to be enjoyed.
    As much as I don’t understand why people don’t like my writing I don’t understand why they DO any better. I constantly have people ask if I’m trying to send a message or tell a parable about X that never entered my mind.
    I never have fit in and I’m never going to. Oh well…

    1. Mac, I have your “problem” with women, except with men. I enjoy being friends, true friends, with gentlemen. That doesn’t mean I want to go any farther, or date, or be other than, you know, friends. People don’t give me much grief about it, in part because I’m hyper-cautious about keeping my distance and not doing anything that might raise eyebrows (at other than the usual things people raise eyebrows over – my dress, my speech-patterns, my hobbies . . .)

    2. I yell as default mode, though rarely outside the family. BUT–
      About half of my friends at any given time are men. I LIKE men, beyond any sexual attraction. I will forever be IMMEASURABLY happy my husband “Gets” that, and has never felt jealous or even mildly alarmed at my friendships. He knows I’m instinctively monogamous. He’s the only man I’m interested in that way.

  13. On the writing front, my big failing is getting back into a story after I hit a depressive patch. That one’s hitting harder right now than the annoying one in editing, that I don’t have a good sense of smell, so I don’t write smells into the first draft and have to go back and intentionally add them in.

        1. Perhaps, given I had to learn not to speak too loud. Also I just don’t seem to get as excited as other people. The people jumping up and screaming on TV over sports or gambling just look insane to me. If I won the Power Ball I could see myself saying – “That’s nice.”

  14. “Children, gentlemen, ladies and dragons: unless the girl were a giant or a circus freak, and the man was a tiny man, or perhaps had some wasting disease, she couldn’t break his arm to that point without oh, at least a broomstick or a mace. No, seriously.”

    Well, you know… Once upon a time I knew a young woman with skinny little arms. She broke a man’s collarbone by doing the Tai Chi technique Brush Knee. He was harassing (euphemism!) her at a bus stop, she broke his collarbone for him. She was a well trained young lady, I do admit.

    Once upon a time I knew a man who’d had his jaw broken by his girlfriend. She went at him with one of those smaller crowbars and broke it. His face was wired up for quite some time. Drunk, and the girlfriend had it in for him.

    You can create a compound fracture just the same way you’d break a broomstick. Hand on the curb, elbow on the road, apply the heel smartly and presto! (It’s the type of thing you learn in hospitals, people love to tell you all about what’s under the cast and how it got there.)

    So, can a petite lady’s maid from Victorian England break a grown man’s arm because he pissed her off? Probably not. But, don’t rule it out. She might nail him just right. If you need something like that to happen, leave a poker where she can get it, and give her red hair.

    And there was a story on the interwebz about some guy in Thailand or the Philippines who killed his father with a chopstick…

    1. Hatpins longer than 8″ were banned in England because a woman murdered her husband with a long one (got him in the heart while he was sleeping. It took a while, but . . .) I also read about a young woman who killed an attacker with her umbrella (English umbrella). She used it as if she were fencing, and rammed the tip into his chest. She managed to get between the ribs, and the concentrated pressure did Unkind Things to his heart and other things. [Lesson: Don’t use a walking stick like a club. People expect that. Use it like a saber or a rapier.]

      1. Spear. Use two hands, go for the breast bone unless you want to be a killer. Or carry a walking stick that actually -is- a club, then you’ve got some options. >:D

      1. I know what you mean Sarah. It’s the poofy-lipped fashion model with the limbs like pipe cleaners kicking The Rock’s ass on TV. Can’t happen. Utterly impossible, and frigging lazy/stupid writing.

        But give her a weapon and let The Rock be drunk, or asleep, and let her be an utter fruitcake on drugs, then yeah. Meth-head chick with tire iron can take a drunk guy passed out in a chair.

        1. There was a reason why I kept emphasizing in Solist At Large that smaller girl trading blow for blow with bigger guy is something you do only when the writer, director, and fight choreographer are VERY much on your side. Otherwise, it’s a recipe for the girl to go down quickly.

  15. I compound fractured myself, albeit my skin stayed tightly wrapped around my bony components.

    If you are holding your purse/bag bunched under your arm and you slip on ice, feel free to drop the purse rather than landing on it, and your arm, and the pavement/ice.

    Anyhow, my technique involved an arm at lots of different awkward angles, and being heavy. I did try to roll, sort of, but it didn’t work out in any useful way.

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