Author James Scott Bell, as well as being a successful lawyer, novelist and writing coach, has been a good friend to StoryADay (giving us both an interview and a writing prompt for last year’s StoryADay May).
So of course, I wanted to like his new story, which veers from his usual style. No mysteries here, no fast-paced action, just the story of a guy dealing with the legacy of something in his past that he’s not proud of.
Writing (and publishing) this story was a big leap for Bell (as he explained when he announced it). he was nervous. It wasn’t like anything he’d ever written before and he was worried that he might fall flat on his face.
Don’t you feel like that, a lot of the time when you sit down to write? I know I do.
So I went into this story wanting to like it. but I wasn’t sure I was going to. I mean, what do I care about a middle-aged, middle-class divorced father on a playdate with his son?
Well, Bell quickly made me care. He does it by using all the craft available to him. Within the first paragraph I’ve learned a lot about the guy, his divorce, the ex-wife. Look how much information he packs into sentences 3 & $ of the story — and not just information, but attitude, character background, exposition, the whole shebang:
“Judy and I reached an amicable settlement on custody, mainly because I didn’t want to fight her anymore. Her family is well off and were not shy about retaining the biggest shark tank in L. A.”
The story is about more than just a bitter divorcé, though. Rather it is about a father reliving something that happened when he was a kid, a little older than his son.
One of the things I noticed about this story (and all of Bell’s writing) is the strength of the narrator’s voice when he’s writing in first person. It is always dipping with character, attitude and is firmly rooted in wherever the character is from (usually L. A.). In this story, even when he takes the character back in time to his teenage years, the voice is distinctive and unmistakably the voice of a teen,
“That’s what got him in bad with Robbie Winkleblack…”
“I ran away, too, but I wasn’t laughing. I was thinking it was all over for me now. I’d be kicked out of school, maybe thrown into juvie.”
How can you make readers care about your characters whether or not they think they are going to?