Three Sides (Afterword)

This is an afterword for a three-part story with a twist. You should read the story first if you haven’t yet!

So, like everything I write—like everything anybody writes—this story has elements of real experiences in it. The characters and relationships are composites of people I know, either firsthand or secondhand…but of course none of them are based entirely on any one real person or situation.

(Eerily, one of my friends went through a breakup in the last few weeks, i.e. while I’ve been putting up the pieces of this story. And Part Two matched surprisingly well.)

I wrote this story during my spare time here in Cambodia, much of it at school during my lunch period. (My lunches have gotten busier since then…no more writing at school.) But I actually had the idea before I left…this was just the right time to put it into action. Actually, this was sort of a warmup for NaNoWriMo, which I am totally, unquestionably doing this year even if it means I only get six hours of sleep and don’t do anything fun this November.

But this is a story “with a twist”, and I’m not talking about some of the cute meta things I did with the three parts. And although I had the idea while I was still in California, the twist didn’t come until I started writing.

The Twist

PSEUDO-SPOILERS: This won’t change the plot, but it will change how you read the story. Turn back now if you haven’t finished it yet.

Okay. Back on my entry about gender in The Hunger Games, my friend Patricia (a writer herself) commented:

Interesting. I was going to write a piece once where there is a hook-up or something at a party and the guy “scores” with a girl, then copy and paste the story and change all the pro-nouns so the girl now “scores” and see what happens to our perception of things; never got around to doing it, obviously, but maybe one day….

Sorry to steal your idea, Patricia, but that’s pretty much what this was! The first draft in my notebook is written with a woman, a man, and a woman. Knowing that I was going to switch the genders when I posted it online, but trying very hard to picture them in my head as I had originally planned.

I think it actually worked very well, and if it’s still believable, it demonstrates that men and women can go through similar experiences when it comes to relationships…despite all of our stereotypes and supposed cross-gender incomprehension. (I’m pretty sure that’s just an excuse we use to explain break-ups, since gay break-ups seem to have just as much capacity to be bad…anyway.)

There were some interesting things to iron out in making this switch, though…

Part One

(All quotes are as posted on this website, not as written in my notebook draft.)

Marriages weren’t even guaranteed anymore—with the way some politicians were carrying on these days, it seemed like an outside lover was almost a requirement in the late stages of holy matrimony.

Mostly male politicians, he couldn’t help noticing.

In the very beginning of Part One there was something I couldn’t flip: it’s a fact that the politicians who have affairs (in the US, anyway), are predominantly male. (By a huge proportion, AFAIK.) So when the male protagonist is thinking this, he’s sort of refusing to believe his ex-girlfriend cheated, or something. Which does come back later. But originally, as a female character, it was the typical bitter thought of losing faith in {group} after they’ve hurt you.

The moment passed, and he calmly—not shouting, not crying—calmly asked what she expected marriage to be like.

When flipping this from female to male, I considered the word “crying”. Stereotypically, men don’t cry in American society, particularly not during a break-up. But then I thought “why not?” and figured that there are probably plenty of men who cried during break-ups; just cause I haven’t doesn’t make it a rule.

(But it’s this kind of thing that makes the “twist” worth doing.)

…at which point he could have bashed his head against a wall if they weren’t outside.

Originally this was “she could have bashed his head…”, which would have become “he could have bashed her head…”. Notice how the red flags go up when it’s male-on-female violence rather than female-on-male, even though both of them are just figures of speech—the same figure of speech. Rather than deal with the red flags, I just posted a more innocuous version.

He had tried to tell himself this was just another part of the story, the three-episode arc in which the hero’s girlfriend misses him everyday, regretting her decision more and more until she shows up late at night with a bouquet of flowers.

The first note here is “hero’s”, which is actually what I wrote even when the protagonist was female. I try to avoid using female forms like “heroine”; I’d rather the plain form become gender-neutral. When the protagonist switched to male, of course, this became a non-issue.

But originally the [boy]friend showed up with a guitar and a bouquet of flowers. Why is it weird to have a girlfriend come serenading a guy? I don’t know…maybe because it’s still not considered normal for girls to chase guys. (If a girl wants a guy, she’s supposed to make him want to chase her.) I left it out for a plainer sentence, but kept the idea of showing up late at night, even though I think on a TV show the girl would call the boy rather than come in person.

Hm. I’m not sure what I think about “take me back” serenades anyway.

He had never been good at reading girls, and now this one, who he had been so close to for a year—ten months—had become inscrutable.

No gender note here…but I originally used “whom” instead of “who”. While this is the correct use of “whom” (prepositional object replacement), I’m really in favor of “whom” dying and “who” being used everywhere, and using “whom” in my notebook was just showing off.

The two of them came into the cafe—she held the door for him

When “he held the door for her”, it’s leftover chivalry. When “she held the door for him”, that disappears. It’s not negative, cause it still shows that they’re friends or at least that she’s polite, but it’s not the same.

IRL, I try to hold doors for everyone equally.

Part Two

The most worrisome thing about Part Two was the mental dialogue. It’s already a stretch for a man; I had very little idea if any women think this way. But I decided that was stupid…surely there’re some women who have conversations with themselves.

I mean, it’s not just Sméagol, right? …right?

(I don’t think like this myself, by the way.)

Anyway…

And her brain told her there was no reason to stay together.

She protested; besides the usual one…

This originally said “besides the obvious one”. But is it obvious? And supposedly it’s less obvious for women than for men…though I’m guessing that’s more individual-dependent than we see on TV…

(He never got around to asking, so maybe she had been able to push the subversive whispers to the back of her mind.)

This is about the protagonist trying to hide her break-up thoughts and her ex accepting it. When it’s a man hiding thoughts from a woman, there’s not too much to it. But as posted, there’s a sense of “he’s unobservant” or “he’s uncaring”. I really didn’t want that here, which is why the second part of the sentence is there. In another story this would be a big issue, but here it’s simple fact…he just never got around to asking, and she didn’t think he was supposed to.

He hadn’t taken it well—no, scratch that, he had actually taken it very well, no shouting, no crying, and how could you take a break-up well anyway?

Here’s that “crying” thing again. This time, though, it’s a reduction from “sobbing”…the total abandon that goes with sobbing just didn’t seem to fit how men take break-ups badly. But of course, I haven’t witnessed anyone else’s break-ups, and this wouldn’t be the sort of thing you share…so maybe “sobbing” would have been fine.

Part Three

I personally feel that Part Three is the weakest of the three, partly because I knew it was the last part and I tend to rush endings, and partly because the protagonist is the least interesting of the three…he’s an outsider who “hasn’t done anything yet”. But it’s a necessary part of telling the story of “leaving for someone else”…the “someone else” has to be someone who means something. And maybe the “someone else” turns out to be the One.

She wasn’t his type. A little too wiry…

This isn’t an adjective usually applied to girls, but I’ve known some wiry girls, and “skinny” wasn’t right. So this is as originally written, even though it was written for a boy.

[H]e really, honestly hadn’t been thinking of her as a potential girlfriend, or indeed particularly as a girl at all.

To me, this feels a bit sexist as posted…that women can be intellectual equals or that they can be attractive, not both. But when it’s flipped (“potential boyfriend, or indeed particularly as a boy at all”), it’s not as bad. Or is it?

Sexist though it may be, I think it’s still honest in this case.

His usual venues were bars and parties, places where he could drink and have a good time, enjoy a flirt with someone (and sometimes a bit more than a flirt), and stay friendly if they met on the street later on.

Cleaned up but basically unchanged from my notebook version. But notice that a man doing this is fairly normal, but a woman doing this is a partier (or worse). Known area of gender inequality, though it’s getting better…

But the other man only laughed, and she had leaned in and kissed him, so it had all been okay.

This one’s purely practical: it used to say “he had leaned over and kissed her”. But most men are taller than most women, and I didn’t want this to even be something people thought about, so I changed it.

…and that’s it. Oh, also this paragraph was the worst to write in terms of pronouns.

Wrap-up

So, how did it go? Was it believable before you learned about the twist? How about after?

I can’t do a story about relationships and break-ups without mentioning ambeR Rubarth’s album New Green Lines. Rubarth is one of the best “singer-storytellers” I know, and New Green Lines proves it: although not all the songs were written together (AFAIK), they’ve been arranged to tell the story of a woman getting over her ex. Now, there are lots of break-up tracks in the music world, but most of them are about the person who was lost, or about the relationship, or whatever. This is actually about what it’s like to have just broken up.

Much respect to ambeR Rubarth, and by the way, she has a new album out too, called A Common Case of Disappearing. Oh, and I made a music video for one of her songs last winter.

During November, I’ll be switching from short story mode to NaNoWriMo, which I haven’t done since three years ago. Joining me here is my housemate and fellow volunteer Janina, if she can get a little more time (she has the most responsibilities of any of us at her school). At home…well, I don’t know, actually. Maybe…you‽

In any case, thanks for reading, and for following this through to the end. Hope you enjoyed it.

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