While taking a summer residency class with Gail Anderson-Dargatz, our class created this as a catchphrase. To explain exactly how would require me to dismantle one of the magic of those “you had to be there” jokes, but it suffices to say that involved Wreck Beach, one of Gail’s writing exercises in The Writer’s Gym and sniffing things.
Imagine for a second you are walking down the street and you encounter a naked guy. What do yo do? Stare? Avert your eyes and walk away? Muse to yourself about the reasons he might be naked and segue into some thoughts about how you feel about your own nudity. Later that night tell your friends, oh my goodness, there was this naked guy walking down the street. Like, totally naked. Just walking down the street. Just totally naked, can you believe that?
Now…. what if you confronted the naked guy? Walked right up to him and said “Hi!” Or even better “Put some clothes on, Naked Guy. You can’t just walk around naked like that!” Perhaps he then argues with you, insists that yes, he can so walk around naked. Maybe you could take off your jacket and try to cover him up. Maybe he struggles to get away from you, but you have to chase him down while he twists from your grasp, his soft naked feet painfully scurrying from your steel-toe boots, him refreshingly cool in the breeze, you sweating into your layers.
When you talk to your friends later that night, what story is more interesting? How you saw the naked guy, or how you fought the naked guy?
Confronting the naked guy creates conflict. And conflict makes for story. So often in our early drafts we avoid the naked guy. We let our characters observe conflict, but we don’t involve them in it. We try to get around this by having characters use this observation to realize something about themselves, but this is just another trick for keeping the avoiding conflict. How much more powerfully could someone realize something about themselves if they figured it out by trying to force-dress a naked guy, rather than passively walking by and neatly thinking it through?
Sure, in real life we probably wouldn’t confront the naked guy. We wouldn’t want to make a scene. But this is a story–you want to make scenes. You can’t make a story without making a scene.
Now, what if you were the naked guy? How interesting would the story be then? Think about it.
Don’t ignore the naked guy. Make a scene. It’s good for your stories.