Awkward Backstory – ‘Ty’s Accidents’

“…seated at the kitchen table, my bowl-cut hair framing my brown eyes that were locked onto a milk carton…”AWKWARD, Chapter One

I’ll start sharing a few essays about how I wrote some of the AWKWARD stories. For students, teachers, and aspiring writers, I’ll also walk through a few of the ideas/tools I’ve found useful as an author.

I started AWKWARD with an autobiographical story about my chronic difficulties pouring my own drink as a child. While many children have occasional spilling accidents, mine were unusually frequent, spectacular in nature, and occurred for “much longer than you would expect.”

Here are three of the questions I encountered while writing Chapter One and how I decided to approach those challenges. I wrote about four different stories for Chapter One, but I chose the milk spilling story because it helped me accomplish a number of things at once.

Is the awkwardness due to the character or the scene? A classic problem in psychology is figuring out whether a behavior is primarily coming from the person, the environment, or some combination of both. By using a story of ten-year-old me, it gave me a chance to introduce readers to my awkwardness before I began junior high. By doing so, I was able to show that there were awkward tendencies in the person (me) before the awkward environment (middle school) clouded where the awkwardness originated.

How to establish anticipation with Chapter One? The hard thing about writing first chapters is that you have to provide a clear overview for the book while also maintaining an element of mystery. I realized that telling of a story set before middle school helped me establish some anticipatory tension. In the milk pouring story, I’m portrayed as a kid who is struggling with social life as the increased difficulty of junior high is fast approaching. I wanted to leave the reader wondering at the end of Chapter One whether I was going to figure out social life before the social environment became less forgiving and much more complicated.

Keep the scene simple. The milk spilling story was an uncomplicated scene. It was just me, a milk carton, and my understandably concerned mother wondering if I was going to make a breakthrough in my ability to pour my own drink. Some of the other stories in the book were more complex or more amusing, but I wanted to start with a scene that was crystal clear. The artist who rendered the sketch of this story perfectly captured how I envisioned the scene in my mind.

If you have not read the milk spilling story, you can read a preview of it here: AWKWARD – Preface and Chapter One Excerpt