So I’m taking this writing class and we had this assignment to come up with a character sketch, something based on an original creation, something along the lines of a Frozen Caveman Lawyer or a Chicken Lady. As usual, I put off writing until the night before. As I sat down I thought, OK, this’ll be easy. I write stuff every day. How hard can it be to come up with a decent character?
It was much harder than I thought. Part of why I like this writing class is because I’m really pushed to get past my own writing style, past what I’m used to doing everyday. And character work? I never really make up characters. I make up a lot of bullshit, sure, but characters?
So I sat down at the computer and the first thing that pops in my head is a guy with four arms. I was immediately put off by the idea. Is that all you’ve got brain? A guy with four arms? I sat there for another ten minutes. Nothing. It was going to be one of those nights, spent staring at the screen, watching the seconds tick by.
I had prepared for this. I spent the entire day writing blog posts, tons of them. I just wanted my fingers and my mind really nimble and warmed up for this assignment. Part of the pressure, I think, is that I’m forced to come up with something funny, something original, and then it’s read in front of everybody in the class.
It’s a part of the learning process, trying and failing. I know that. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier, getting in there, passing out copies of your sketch to everybody, assigning different people to read different roles, and then hearing it out loud. I’ve botched it before, and it’s not fun, the sitting there, pretending to act natural while everybody goes around the room reading out loud what you’ve written, completely stone-faced, absolutely not entertained.
So I wanted something good, something original, something funny. I thought about time travel, a classic, a standby, something I’ve written about extensively. OK, let’s do a time travel guy. Would he be from the future? OK sure, he’s from the future. And what’s funny about this future guy? Hmm. Yeah, that’s not really inherently funny, the future.
Maybe he could be from a parallel universe. And what would he say? Maybe he’d say stuff about how different everything is in his reality. And in the course of the sketch you’d find out that his universe is only marginally different that our universe. But, that doesn’t sound funny either. That just sounds like a bunch of boring sci-fi nonsense that wasn’t that interesting when I wrote about it on this blog months ago.
Finally I got to the point where I was staring at a blank screen for the better part of half an hour. I had somehow managed to keep my urges to check the Internet at bay, but I knew that if I didn’t start writing something right away, my sorry excuse for self-discipline would erode and I’d be lost on Reddit in no time.
I couldn’t believe I was about to do this, but I really didn’t have much of a choice. Four-arms. I was going to write a sketch about a guy with four arms. Just get something on paper, I told myself. Who cares what’s it’s about. Just get it down, hold it in your hand, and you’ll see that you’re capable of writing this sketch. That made sense, kind of. If I could just write something, I’d ease a lot of the pressure, the anxiety and the worry that I might have nothing.
I named him Four-arms. If I’m going for this terrible idea, I might as well embrace it. It turned out exactly as you’d imagine. Terrible jokes about the neighbors asking Four-arms to help carry in the groceries. Bits about specially tailored shirts, all of the extra money you’d have to spend on deodorant. I reached the page limit and read it back and knew that it wasn’t even close to something I’d like to present to a roomful of strangers.
I just needed an ending. Some ending, anything, something stupid, whatever I just wanted to be finished with Four-arms and forget about him. But I had this ridiculous scenario pop in my head where all of the sudden a lady would scream from a top floor apartment window because her baby was falling out of the building. By this point Four-arms wouldn’t have any free hands, because they’d all be carrying groceries. But just before the baby hits the ground, two more arms rip out of Four-arms’ shirt, and he saves it. And everyone looks around and says something like, “Wow, look everybody. He really has six arms!”
It’s so bad, I can’t even explain how embarrassed I am that I put it down. Worst of all was, whenever I thought of the scene, and how ridiculous it was, I started giggling involuntarily. I couldn’t stop it. And nothing was even that funny. I just had this laugh stuck inside somewhere and those two arms busting out of the shirt got it going uncontrollably.
I wound up actually bringing the sketch in, only because I had no alternative. I couldn’t think of anything funnier. So my turn came around and I just kept thinking to myself, just keep it together Rob. Nothing would have been more awkward than a room full of silence interrupted by a guy laughing to himself at his own unfunny joke. And sure enough, when somebody read out loud, “Look! He actually has six arms!” I couldn’t take it. I felt it bubbling up. So I tried to make it sound like I was coughing. But I think that all the fake coughing did was bring more attention to the fact that I was smiling, and the whole thing snowballed out of control, to the point where I had to interrupt and apologize, for laughing, for making a scene. I know it’s not funny everybody, but for some reason, this image of a six-armed man carrying groceries and catching a baby, it sets me over the edge. Man, I was so embarrassed. Everybody probably thought I was nuts.