Monday, May 11, 2015

Writing prompt: Flipping the sign

Choose what is generally considered a positive character trait — honesty, beauty, courage, and the like. Describe a person who exhibits that trait, but do so in such a way that the positive trait becomes negative.

You could do it the other way around, too: putting a positive spin on a negative trait.

Einstein's genius was so expansive that he once figured out how to
breath fire just to show his dissatisfaction with Jawaharlal Nehru's new jacket.

Ulterior motive

This isn't an exercise in spin meant to prepare you for a life in politics. When mastered, this ability to flip the sign of negative and positive traits can become a useful tool in fiction writing because it adds a layer to your descriptions of characters. By flipping the sign, you can ostensibly describe one character while revealing just as much information about the point-of-view character (or the narrator) and go a long way toward defining the relationship between the two.

Your readers will appreciate both the depth that this technique can create and the economy of it. Think about it: Instead of describing two characters separately, you could have one describe the other and, in so doing, the reader is presented a description of both.

My example

Inhuman. That's the only word to describe Genevieve's beauty. Utterly inhuman. As in, no human could possibly be that beautiful.

It made me sick.

The rumors started in middle school that her parents were lavishing her with plastic surgeries. Having her nipped, tucked, and sucked so that she would remain their perfect angel. Her long blonde hair was professionally dyed every week so that her true roots never showed. Her emerald green eyes were colored contact lenses. Her skin was smooth and luminous from a regimen of oils and lotions extracted from various organs of endangered species. And when she walked into the first day of ninth grade with a perfect new pair of B-cups, she had gotten a boob job over the summer.

I even heard one of the ancient blue-haired ladies wonder aloud whether Genevieve had sold her soul to the devil in exchange for her beauty.

It was all bunk, of course. I knew the truth.

Because I grew up with Genevieve. Not to say that we were friends. She lived three doors down from me my entire life, but we were never in the same social circles. Pretty girls like her just weren't friends with girls like me.

We met for the first time at the local daycare center when we were only two years old. I have no recollection of those days, of course, but I have seen pictures from that time. Mother's Day celebrations. Christmas pageants. "Graduation" ceremonies for moving from the three-year-old class to the fours. Naptimes, playtimes, storytimes. And in every picture, the eye is drawn to the glow of Genevieve's platinum hair, the green twinkle in her eye, the dimples from her cherubic smile.

Even back then she was beautiful. Inhumanly so. And she just stayed that way.

So I knew the truth about her.

I didn't exactly correct those stories that the other kids told about her, though.