Subjects touched upon herein: insights, more description, more echoes, more foreshadowing, and more stage-2 gardening.
If you don’t yet have the book, follow along with the associated excerpt.
A lying liar who tells lies
Chapter 9 begins with the words “She had always been a lousy liar.” Ben knows Tally lies. He knows also that it’s a defense mechanism and that she is always in defense mode, which he correctly attributes to a troubled home life (even if he’s a little off on the details), and he knows she doesn’t bother concocting good lies she’s certainly smart enough to come up with “Because you lie like you’re daring me to call you a liar and give you an excuse to leave.”
He’s known her a long time. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s studied her just as thoroughly as he feels she’s studied him. He has a great deal of insight — but not as much as he needs to have a breakthrough with her. She retreats from the truth, which is often painful to her, and he has enabled her to do that, then and now, because he doesn’t want to play a part in causing her pain. Again, he appeases rather than push her because “acceptance was a price he was willing to pay” to be close to her (and because he doesn’t want to get dumped by the side of the road in the dark in the middle of nowhere).
When Tally asks, “So how did you arrive at the conclusion someone was hitting me?”, she’s looking for where the “I got banged up at dance practice” lie fell apart — where she failed to protect her secret — because that’s the one thing she thought she was good at. Everybody else who got a glimpse of the bruises (even her father) accepted her simple, logical explanation. Ben didn’t. Does he have some truth-detecting superpower? Unlikely, so when did she weaken, make a mistake, and reveal more than she wanted to? For years, her security depended on her ability to hide. The realization that somebody’s been looking at her ass hanging out of her hiding place the whole time and could have blabbed to anybody at any time retroactively compromises her whole existence.
Ben is comfortable enough with his masculinity to appreciate another man’s physique
Ben is responsible for most of (what little there is of) the physical description of Tally’s father. For her, her dad is part of her everyday, familiar, comfortable surroundings, so other than the prosthetic leg, which is a deviation from what was normal up until two years ago and a source of present-day upset, she doesn’t think anything in particular about his appearance. For Ben, growing up in the shadow of this hulking guy he thought was mistreating the girl he loved, Wayne Castle is a huge, menacing bruiser known only by his huge, menacing bruiser properties (hugeness, local football legend, fight breaker-upper, prison guard), so those are the terms in which he thinks of the man.
God, we get it, she’s poor, move on already
The editor I won’t be working with again grew weary of my harping on Tally’s money woes. I’m so sorry if the subject of poverty causes discomfort, but it’s not a dismissible bit of filler in WCAD. Tally’s not the only one hurting for cash. Businesses are closing. Municipal services are diminished. Money is being cut from school lunches. Most of Westard relies on charity for food. The entire town is in fiscal peril. It’s not a case of the poor, put-upon heroine wringing her hands waiting for Prince Charming to come save her with his big, throbbing MasterCard. It’s a pervasive, emotionally impactful, inhibiting, and demanding issue (an environmental filter, one might go so far as to say).
When you have no money, money is a subject of obsession because it makes you vulnerable. Housing security and food security are survival necessities, and when money is so tight you could lose those survival necessities, you exist in a state of continuous panic, hypervigilant for the next disaster.
Tally isn’t “overreacting” when she vows to never return to that store. It’s humiliating to have your struggles aired in public, all the more so because the public — sensitive animal that it is — frequently revels in the misfortune of others because it gives them an opportunity to feel superior to someone. And if you think that cashier wouldn’t remember, gloat, and make snide remarks loudly enough for everyone in a 50-foot radius to overhear next time she sees Tally, you don’t know that animal very well.
I’ve gone more out of my way than a 40-minute detour to avoid bullies before, and not being terrorized is worth every bit of inconvenience.
More babies than a boy-band song
There is a way to say “baby” that is nurturing, and there is a way to say “baby” that is guy-with-too-many-buttons-open-and-lots-of-gold-chains. I would like to assume you’d go with nurturing, but since I wasn’t confident you’d read it with the intended intonation, I changed “What happened, baby?” when Ben apprehends Tally to “What happened, Tal?”
The reason for my lack of confidence in you is that I play this fun game wherein I select a random couple paragraphs and read them out of context so they seem less “Ah, yes, I remember, I wrote this, so it can’t suck” and could be anybody’s words up for savaging, and when I wasn’t absorbed in the flow of the story, “What happened, baby?” jarred me with the chest-thicket/man-dazzle vibe. Even if you’re totally absorbed in reading WCAD, sometimes the phone rings or the kids try to kill each other or an interdimensional hell portal opens in your living room to tear you away from your book, and after handling the interruption, you might be trying to get back into the story right at “baby,” thus finding yourself squicked out.
So in the name of consumer advocacy, the “baby” had to go.
Stop hitting yourself
Echoes. Mirroring. Pulling threads to the surface of the weave. “An unfortunate tendency to repeat” myself. Whatever you want to call it, there’s quite a bit of WCAD referencing itself in these two chapters.
- No bars and no Wi-Fi — echoing the location’s isolation in Tally
- Back at the bakery, her heart accelerated as if he’d left her alone with a known serial killer — echoed now in shying away from him like he was a chainsaw killer
- She might have been made of stone — many of the women Ben feels strongly about (his mom, Stella, Tally [AKA The Fortress]) have rock-like properties
- That exchange about the Wilkins twins and their dentures back in Chapter 3 — echoed in Tally’s fear of tooth decay and Ben’s response to it
Omens, portents, and prophecies, oh my
- the thing he remembered most about his father was him knocking his mom around before he did them both a favor and took off for the last time — expect growing up in an abusive household to have taken its toll on Ben, too. That’s where his need to appease comes from: “I’ll never hurt you in any way, and I’ll do anything to make up for failing to protect you.”
- He knew the correct words to say — expect him to be wrong in thinking the socially acceptable thing to say is ever what Tally wants to hear (and that setup pays off immediately); furthermore, expect saying the “wrong” thing to occasionally yield more valuable results than he anticipates, so he shouldn’t knock it
- Her expression neutralized. — her dad did a neutral expression a while ago, too; expect her to have learned other behaviors from his example
- If you can’t handle the quiet, turn on the radio. — expect that radio to be turned on eventually
- I have to be doing something. — expect to eventually find out what happens if she’s not doing something (also echoes back to Chapter 4’s having a hard time finding even five minutes to relax)
- Had her mother thought she was clear-headed before crashing into a bridge abutment at eighty miles an hour? — expect this to not be the last time Tally draws a worrisome parallel between herself and her mother
- You knew that. — expect Tally to think Ben can intuit things that are obvious to her without her having to explicitly state them (and to be wrong)
- Don’t blink, and you won’t cry — this is the mantra of those who’ve been punished for tears; expect a mantra to return for an encore
Tending the sprouts
- In Chapter 2, it was mentioned Tally does not have “a talent for defending herself” — now, instead of saying to the cashier, “I want to speak to your manager, and I want some of this shit free to compensate me for your bitch attitude,” she tucks her tail between her legs, flees, and vows never to return to that place.
- Earlier, I dangled booze + driving + Tally’s mother — now we have confirmation her drunk driving killed her and lost Wayne his leg.
- Earlier, Ben expressed animosity toward Tally’s dad — now we know it stemmed from his belief she got her bruises from her dad.
- In Chapter 8, Tally hoped Ben wouldn’t notice her leaning away from him — now we know he did notice. Whenever a character questions what another character perceives (or doesn’t), the reader should be let in on what the other character does perceive (even if the takeaway is “not the cause of worry”). Don’t put any question in the reader’s mind if you’re not going to answer it for the reader. The worried character doesn’t have to know. Stories don’t exist to reassure worried characters; stories exist to give worried characters something really worrisome to worry about.
If you don’t feel that’s adequate coverage of these two chapters, elaborate below. Otherwise, on to Chapter 11 next week.