The Snake/Part 2

I’m continuing the idea I got from Neil Gaiman of writing about a story while I’m still actively writing it. So on with The Snake.

Omar’s first task is to get together what he needs to create a viable habitat for his snake. He needs to have it ready before he brings a snake home. I learned that from various snake care sites online. The second chapter has him sitting in school during a math lesson on fractions. Omar’s mind wanders. He makes a list of all the things he needs and thinks about why they’re important. This is something I do. I make lists and talk to myself about them. It’s also a chance to introduce information about caring for snakes. This will be important in later chapters when Omar actually has a snake to care for.

This gives me an opportunity to introduce Samkatt, Omar’s friend, who has the seat across the aisle. They both detest The Big O, Ms. Ortiz, their teacher. Samkatt has given himself that name because he loves to draw cartoon samurai cats. He wants to be an anime illustrator. Omar and Samkatt have a lot in common. They both hate school and Big O. The difference is that Samkatt is one of those kids with the ability to pull the right answer out of the air despite the fact that he’s never seen doing any work at all. That was my friend David in high school, who was the ultimate of cool. He grew up to become a fabulously wealthy financial analyst and banker, which proves that sloth can also lead to success if you’re so inclined.

Samkatt wants to know what Omar is writing. He becomes intrigued by the idea of having a pet snake. He tells Omar that he knows a kid whose snake died. He might be willing to sell his habitat cheap.

Here I’m facing a minor problem. What do I call a snake habitat? Do I call it a habitat or a fishtank? Habitat is proper, but would the boys use that term when they’re speaking. Omar might, but probably not Samkatt. I’ll have to think about this. Something to work out later.

Omar drops by Samkatt’s house after school. Samkatt introduces him to Ray, a middle school skateboard slacker. Ray’s willing to sell his stuff. He takes the boys into the garage so Omar can look it over. Omar doesn’t have much respect for Ray, especially when he starts realizing that he probably killed his snake through ignorance and laziness. Ray hasn’t bothered to learn the first thing about keeping snakes. Here I introduce another aspect of Omar’s character. He’s easy-going most of the time, but he can suddenly become determined when he sees something he wants. Omar has learned how to bargain from his mother. This is a cultural issue: you have to bargain. That’s how it’s done. Add that to the fact that Omar despises Ray. He’s determined to get the snake habitat and equipment from Ray for next to nothing. And he does. We watch Omar playing Ray like a fish on the line.

I’m not a good bargainer myself. I hate it. But my wife has a knack for it. In China this fall we watched the pro’s do it. I was fascinated to watch the dealing go back and forth. I’m using that in this scene.

Samkatt is going to help Omar carry the habitat home. We’ll meet Omar’s mother in her studio, starting on a painting. To Omar’s surprise, it’s a picture of a woman with a snake. Omar’s mom, it turns out, is fascinated by snakes as symbols. Her phobia is toward real ones. She talks to Samkatt about his art; how about taking his talent seriously and drawing something besides Japanese anime cats. I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

Omar sets up his habitat. Next step is to get a snake. I have a prototype for the snake man: Walter Mayes, the Giant Storyteller. I have no idea how Walter feels about snakes. I’m seeing him as John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, living in an old house filled with snakes. Omar’s dad will come into this, too, somehow. He grew up in the country somewhere in India or Pakistan, maybe. His uncle would call a huge snake in from the fields when the rats in the compound got too numerous.

These are just thoughts. I haven’t written anything beyond Omar’s getting his habitat. I’m following a technique I learned from my friend Ellen Howard. Don’t outline. Don’t take notes or create elaborate backstories for your characters. Just start writing. The characters show up. After a while, if you keep at it, they start talking to you. They tell you their story. You write it down.

Simple, huh?

More later.

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