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Greg’s Twitter Novel: Chapter One

By Greg Pak
The rumors are true — I’m writing a novel on Twitter. You can watch me write it in real time at And from time to time, I’ll post compiled chapters here, along with my notes for what’s working and what isn’t and what I might do in the next draft.
So here’s Chapter One, in which we meet our heroine Rima, who’s trying to kill her husband with her eyes. (And special thanks to the awesome Chad Bonin, who kindly compiled these tweets.)

Rima stared at her husband and killed him with her eyes. He just sat there, stupidly, reading a comic book, as the 7 train clang clanged up out of the tunnel and over Flushing into the dusky orange shafts of late afternoon sunlight. He looked up as the light hit his face, then turned to her and smiled, oblivious to her stare. The light was in his eyes; he couldn’t see. But she’d given him the same look a dozen times before, just to see if he noticed. And even in the softest light, in the clearest conditions, he always gave her the same calm, sweet look.
“Headache?” he said.
She kept killing him with her eyes. He just reached into his satchel and pulled out a bottle of Advil.

When Rima was thirteen, she was the wild girl. Sitting in the back of the school bus, the very back seat, with Chris LaFebre, universally acknowledged to be one of the three cutest boys in the 8th grade. Chris had a center part. Feathered blond hair. Polo shirt with the collar turned up. Three years before, he and Rima had been the first in their grade school to “go” together.
Teachers viewed them with alarm. Their parents fretted, aching to speak up but wary of driving the kids even closer together. In truth, there wasn’t that much to worry about. On three separate occasions, Rima and Chris had made out in the back of the bus, publicly. But when they were alone, they mostly just listened to records and read comic books.
Chris was an mystery to Rima. So beautiful, so confident. He seemed to walk among the other kids in perpetual, backlit slow motion. And when they sat on the bus together, holding hands, surrounding by laughing, screaming kids, his eyes would light up strange and wild. They were the king and queen of the tribe. The back seat was their throne. Anything they commanded, the other kids would do.
Once Chris pushed on the back of the seat before him. And the old metal frame of the seat groaned. Rima and Chris grinned at each other. Then pushed and pulled the back of the seat until the metal shrieked and snapped. The other kids screamed. The bus driver just grinned and drove. He wore reflective sunglasses like the boss man in “Cool Hand Luke.” He didn’t give a hot damn.
The kids destroyed the back of the bus, pushing back all the seat backs to create a giant bed. And when they came to that stretch of bumpy road, where the city had never repaired the asphalt broken apart by the ice of the previous winter, the bus driver cut loose.
The kids screamed for him to drive faster. And he did, cackling. They laughed. And he drove even faster. And then they stopped laughing.
Kids began to leave their seats, moving forward in the bus as it careened toward the bumps. Rima’s older sister, who always sat in the fourth seat from the front on the right, turned around and screamed “RIMA!” with a look of naked terror. Rima stared back at her, smiling. Rima locked her hands under the back of that very back seat, the bus hit the first of the bumps, her sister screamed her name again, and as the broken seat backs took flight around her, Rima realized that her sister actually loved her.
But she wasn’t her sister’s sister right now. She was the Queen of the Tribe, flying through time and space with her King, who let out a whoop of such unbridled joy she thought they would never touch down again.
But now, as the sun set over Flushing, grown-up Rima sat on the 7 train, staring at her husband, grown-up Chris who squeezed her knee with his left hand while he turned the page of his comic book with his right.
And for the third time, she killed him with her eyes.
And for the third time, he refused to die.
Years later she would remember this moment. And she would curse him for his calm smile, for his terrible failure to keep alive the moronic, romantic, self-destructive wildness of adolescence, for his ultimate sin of growing up and finding happiness in the real world.
But today, as the gorgeous, horizontal light of the setting sun sent dusty shafts through the clanging train, Rima ran out of time.
A great metallic shriek split the air. Rima and Chris both spun, turning towards the setting sun. Something was wrong with the train, Rima thought. The metal is tearing apart — the tracks are exploding — something — and she found herself gripping Chris’s hand with all her strength. She turned to stare at him. And he stared back at her, alert, entirely present, but still so very calm.
“It’s all right,” he said. And then the sky over the setting sun opened up and the great metal raptor exploded through the breach, sank its huge talons into the back of the train, and wrenched it from the elevated tracks.

1. The writing on Twitter experiment absolutely worked in terms of getting me to crank out words. Reminds me a bit of doing improv comedy back in the day — the light hits you and you deliver, whether you’ve thought it through or not. You trust yourself and you go for it.
2. Of course, as with improv, what comes out isn’t always particularly polished or beautiful. This absolutely feels like a first draft. Maybe even more like an outline. But I’m pretty pleased with that — not a bad way to force myself to rough out a story.
3. Need to give Rima more action in this opening scene. This is novel writing instead of dramatic writing, so I’m indulging a bit in the ability to tell backstory, to rummage through my character’s memories. But Rima needs something a bit more specific than just trying to kill her husband with her eyes here. Doesn’t have to be huge. But even if it’s tiny, we need something visual and visceral she’s trying to do that puts us in her skin a bit more.
4. The other people on this subway car are going to play a role in the next chapter. MIght need to introduce them here, even in passing.
5. I have another incident-on-the-school-bus that might work better than the one depicted here. Remember to give that a shot later down the line.
6. Bit more awkward repetition of words here and there than I tend to find even in first drafts. I think the fact that I’m writing in very small chunks makes it more prevalent. Something to watch out for.
7. Does the audience need more explanation of the setting? New Yorkers know the 7 train and Flushing. Others don’t.
8. Gonna need to find a way to explore/explain/dramatize Rima’s and Chris’s current life/work. We get a good glimpse of them as kids; less of them as adults. Don’t really know who they are in the here and now just yet. Can that wait until Chapter Two? Don’t know. Probably need at least a hint here. Also, Chris’s calmness needs more context, more concrete bits of information/dramatization that help us understand where he’s coming from and how/why he changed over the years.
9. It’s a sci fi story. Eventually I’m going to have to figure out how much I want to tip that off, if at all, in the first few pages.
10. Maybe Rima and Chris should be closer in the opening, in the middle of a good point in their relationship instead of a bad one… TBD.
Follow the next chapter and let me know what you think at!

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