Writing Exercise: Character

This is from a while ago–it was written in my Intro to Fiction class last spring as part of a character exercise. (We had a “Character Funtivity Day” with speed dating and a “Survivor” style competition!) Lola M.W. was created for the exercise, but Desmond Roth is a character I’ve had in my head for a while, though he’s yet to do much. He pops us again in another exercise I wrote for this year’s Advanced Fiction workshop–stay tuned for that next week! 

When Desmond heard from his screenwriter friend that Lola Moon-Worona was raising a baby girl since their encounter two years ago, his response was to muse that perhaps she had a death wish. The screenwriter friend (Desmond refused to think of him by name, a petty and cowardly vengeance for said friend’s having christened him with the stomach-churning nickname that had followed the young actor from Columbia University to Columbia Pictures) misunderstood the punchline, but Desmond “Hymen” Roth hadn’t bothered to explain it.

Desmond mostly liked her name. Lola Moon-Worona. She wasn’t named after the Kinks song, though—she’d lowered her voice to tell him—she’d told more than one guy that was the case. Her mom was Korean, a botanist who worked with carnivorous plants. Suzy Moon “understands profoundly” creatures that can be totally passive and yet a predator, that was what Lola said about it; Desmond’s eyebrow arched at that, though he wasn’t quite won over. In Los Angeles, everyone had a prepackaged witticism on hand, along with Trojans, even the women. He expressed relief that she wasn’t a neopagan. She replied that she’d dabbled with witchcraft in high school, and also cheerleading. Desmond thought she was trying a little too hard at this point, but later when using her bathroom, he discovered a stash of tarot cards, amulets, and a prayer candle to Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, as well as a pair of pom-poms.

They exchanged their most self-aggrandizing examples of movie snobbery. An apparition of the French actor Alain Delon followed Desmond around telling him what to do like Elvis Presley to Christian Slater in True Romance. Lola used to tell people her mother was a vengeful Asian ghost who haunted her divorced Caucasian father’s Thai restaurant like in Ringu or Ju-on. She adored Asian genre movies. American action and especially horror movies simply did not compare. At the Japanese hot pot restaurant she’d recommended, she alluded to both the Hong Kong film Dumplings, in which an actress eats dumplings made from human fetuses to stay young, and the fourth Ju-on movie, in which Kayako Saeki crawls out of a pregnant actress to be literally reborn.

He asked her what she’d be if she didn’t make it in the movie industry. She said an ob/gyn. When he mentioned his older brother was experimenting with Eastern religion, she asked him if she knew about the mizuko kuyo. Mizuko, literally “water child,” was Japanese for “fetus”; the mizuko kuyo ceremony involved shrines and offerings to the bodhisattva Jizo in order to prevent vengeful retribution from the spirits of miscarriages, stillbirths, and abortions.

Desmond told her he could see her as a scream queen. She looked much more like a cheerleader than a witch, with her bronze tan and golden highlights in her choppy brown hair and vague Eurasian exoticism that could still pass as white. She had, in fact, moved from Hawaii to Hollywood to pursue a career as a director.

The date had a predictable ending, but there was a small twist Desmond didn’t see coming. He’d asked her sarcastically, so what was it like, being a woman in Hollywood? She asked him if he’d like to know. Sensing even the so-called Hymen Roth’s good looks and up-and-coming stardom had overstepped their bounds, he said yes. She insinuated she’d be interested in casting him in her newest movie and put her hand on his knee.

Desmond was both a little disappointed and bemused when she never called him about the movie. He did see it, though. It was called Afterbirth. He couldn’t finish it, but when his screenwriter friend asked him if it was because it was so frightening or so terrible, he wouldn’t say.


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