Friday, July 4, 2008


And it begins:

There once was a little girl who didn't want to be pretty.

That is the opening line to a story I've been kicking around for just shy of 20 years. More like 18 to be precise. I say "opening line", but that is a lie.

Because I've never gotten to a second line.

As opening lines go it has a lot going for it. It's no "Listen." (Slaughterhouse 5) or "Lo. Li. Ta." (Lolita, duh!!) but it holds its own. It grabs the readers attention right off the bat (a little girl not wanting to be pretty? That doesn't sound right.) and raises questions for the body of the story to answer (Who? Why?). It also is emotionally compelling, especially if one already knows the story.

It is just about the saddest thing I've ever heard.

But like I said, I've never been able to write a second line. Not that I don't know the ending (imagine everyone lived happily ever after with a little bit of shadow blended in), but when you come right down to it I can't tell anyone how that little girl who didn't want to be pretty grew in to a woman able to accept that she in fact was. See, "Pretty" is not my story to tell. Looking just at practicalities I don't really have a handle on how we get from A to B. I know the protagonist does get there, but it is difficult to write something you don't know. Which is just the first difficulty, the first reason the story resists fictionalization.

A second difficulty lies in the very nature of fiction. I had a professor once who said (I'm pretty sure he was quoting some one, but I don't know who) "Fiction is the lies we tell to get at the truth." I'm not really comfortable telling lies about this story.

So you can see why I've never gotten to a second line. I'd have to be making up bits when I'm not even clear on what the reality was. Tall order. But you're probably wondering about some of the questions that first line raises.

Who? Fairly obvious someone I was close to. A former girlfriend. I've mentioned her before in this blog. That post might make a little more sense after reading this one.

Why? I know the broad outline more so than specifics. When she was FOUR YEARS OLD (that just feels right in caps) a male neighbor/"friend" of the family had her do things with, no, to him. I'm not clear on if physical force was involved, but it would explain things I would otherwise write off as personality quirks. One of the consequences: she started to believe that bad things wouldn't happen to her if she wasn't pretty.

She did grow out of this belief, which is really where I see the story. It's just not a story I can tell, directly at least.