Men in Dark Alleys


“Hey honey,” said a man in an alley we were walking by.

Now, I’m an expert at pretending not to notice things. This is not always a good skill, but it comes in handy when strangers shout things from dark places. My friends, L & J, however, turned and looked down the alley; consequently, they were the ones to give the intimate description of the man to the police.

It was L’s idea to call the police. I’d encountered the local police before and was in no hurry to do so again, but I told her it was a great idea to call. Then a police officer showed up at our apartment, and after he listened to her describe the flasher, he said, “Guess you didn’t see anything you liked.” And he laughed in a way that a man you’re are counting on shouldn’t.

In real life I notice a thousand things but acknowledge few. I can pretend no one in the room made an unfortunate sound, that no one threw out an insult, that an argument didn’t happen next to me, that someone didn’t tell a lie. But fiction requires that you look. That you acknowledge. Even that you get closer. In my writing I feel that I am still not close enough to be a good writer, but far enough away to stay sane. There has got to be a way to do both. Right?

What scenes do you find hardest to write?

12 thoughts on “Men in Dark Alleys

  1. I find it hardest to write scenes where I’m in a character’s head who is socially unacceptable. This can be a lot of different kinds of unacceptable, from violent to strangely sexualized, lol! But if the part of me that cares what other people would think wakes up, it’s difficult for me to get it to shut up with the, “You can’t say that! What would people think?”

  2. I’ve always been a noticer, and often a compulsive one. Couldn’t describe it as a gift, surely — just a crazy vacuum-cleaner mind that sucks stuff up indiscriminately. The good news is that details are always (?) there if I need them; the bad news is the implicit “…AND if I can find them.”

    There’s another bit of bad news, too, which is the assumption that readers will be patient with a lot of details. This leads me to the kind of scenes I hate to write: scenes where I need (or imagine I need) to impart some complex information to the reader. I hate to write them because I know I’m worried too much about leading readers by the hand, every single step of the way through (say) a chain of logic. Often I’ve got to stop just a couple pages into such a scene because it’s boring even ME. 🙂

    Thank God for the Backspace and Delete keys, and for modern user interfaces that let us select and obliterate whole blocks of text at a time!

  3. I’m with you writtenwryrdd. The socially repulsive characters are tough. I’ve been flashed a few times and after the first I managed to pretend like I didn’t see a thing. ha.

    JES, oh I notice. I heard the man in the alley-I just know not to look. When someone drives by and honks or anything like that, I just don’t pay attention. This had made me miss a few friends trying to say hello. From what I’ve read of your work, I’ve not felt lead by the hand.

    Squirrel, yeah, sex scenes… I do the whole cut away thing–they kiss in one sentence and wake up in the next!

  4. before I answer the question… I wanted to slap your wrist. You ARE a good writer. Stop saying you aren’t. More importantly, stop thinking you aren’t.

    Even the best writers still have things to learn. if they didn’t, they would be rote, formulaic hacks. Art is about learning and questioning and struggling and trying new things and exposing new wounds.

    You may not always want to tell “that” story, but from what I’ve read of your work, that turns into a subtlety and delicacy that makes the reader want to continue on and leaves them to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to knock people over the head to confront the devils.

    That said, I share your reticence about writing those ugly things. I keep trying, though, and if I know I am doing it, I can push myself farther, and hope I get to where you are.

  5. Not to mention, ahem, exaggerated…

    Seriously, I think I’d struggle with writing a physically violent scene, and have so far avoided it. Not ready to go there.

  6. loriaustex

    “In real life I notice a thousand things but acknowledge few.”
    “But fiction requires that you look.”

    A question follows — one you might have fun with, since you work both as writer and as visual artist.

    When I did master copies of sketches by people like Holbein and Ingres and Degas back in the day, it became very clear that strong visual art was made by a very selective form of looking. Work that, at fast glance, looked beautifully realistic decomposed into highly unreal forms when studied. For example, when attentively copying a portrait of a woman by Ingres — one that, like much of his work, looked hyper-real if mannered — I “got” just how impossible anatomically her shoulder and her jaw were, and how glyphic the lace on her dress was. There wasn’t a realistic, true thing about this very realistic-looking portrait.

    So…do writers “see” more than visual artists? I suspect so, because the writer’s telling detail needs to paint a picture in the reader’s mind, whereas a “realistic” visual work can gloss or lie and our mind’s eye completes the scene.

  7. lori, my husband and I have a beautiful Tarkay print in our living room. We owned it a while before I realized how wrong certain things in the painting are. A real person’s legs could never be at that angle, for example. But I believe that is how she is sitting anyway.

    You’re right. Writing is much the same.

    Sarah, I’ve written a few violent scenes and I always came to them as if that wasn’t what I was writing at all. Does that make any sense? I didn’t realize how violent the scenes were until later when I went back and read what I’d written. Scared myself.

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