Tom Wallison Capstone

My capstone involved me going through the process of creating a novel. I learned the difficult research process that is involved in writing something that is realistic fiction. With my specific story, I wanted to create a story that reached into the absurd, with both character committing suicide, but still managed to maintain an air of realism. This was evident in my research, which included novels that were similar in nature but still didn't quite hit the mark according to critics. It also included empirical studies on mental illnesses, especially in teenagers, to see if the story I was telling could feel reasonable to the average reader. I came up with a story, and wrote a portion of it, which I showed to a variety of people, some even with experience with mental illness, and after some feedback from each of them, I am confident that I was able to create a story that managed to seem reasonable even through its absurdities. While it may have not become a totally complete story, this learning experience was incredible, and I've really understood the difficulties people face when writing.

Sample from Ruth

You look up to the roof of the school, and there you see Ruth standing on the edge, of which she throws herself off of.

You run towards her destination, thirty feet below her start. In your rush, you trip on some elevated sidewalk, and fall down fully, scraping your upper left arm and right hand deeply, tearing a hole in your pants. You hurriedly get yourself up and continue your sprint, but it is already far too late. When you make it to her, Ruth is simply a mess of limbs, no movement at all in her body. You take hold of her. On her head there is a dent, in the center of which there is a gash with her brain exposed, blood pouring out. Her eyes have rolled back into her head, one damaged to the point of where there is blood dripping down the outside corner onto her face and down her cheek.

You lay her on your lap and hold her face. The blood from her eye and the gash in her head mix together. You cry out, first in disbelief, then again in horror, and then again in anger. The mixture of blood is joined by your tears as you sob deeply, disgusted by yourself. You are sure you could have prevented this if you had just done something different, something better. This was your fault, and you felt that grief immediately.

Bianca had stood up to come after you, but you had been quicker and she had stopped, so she was stalled behind you standing, stunned. She has never seen you like this before. She has no idea how to help.

Weeks pass. Ruth’s memorial service is on December 23rd. One portion is a private setting with an open casket, and the other portion is more public and had a closed casket. You are invited to and attended both. Bianca comes with you to the public viewing but chooses to exclude herself from the private one, which you don’t particularly mind. It is generally uneventful, at least any more so than funerals usually are. You grieve alongside the family, with exchanges of tears and condolences, and then all parties eventually depart.

The next day is December 24th: Christmas Eve. You spend this day with your own family. The world felt like a different place: emptier, but besides being blue for most parts of the day there is nothing unusual that happens.

On Christmas Day you spend it with your family in the morning and then spend the afternoon with Bianca. You have lunch together, talking about how your celebrations with your family had gone. You both talk about the gifts you’ve gotten. Your mood improves as the day goes on. You’re able to forget about and for the first time in a while, as Bianca lies on your shoulder in the backseat of a taxicab on its way to your home, with the sun being in a state of just giving enough light that the streetlamps don’t turn on, but dark enough that it’s clear the day is ending, you close your eyes and truly smile, actually feeling happy. The cab drops you off at your house, and Bianca exits with you and comes inside.

You’re both quickly to the living room and onto the couch. The place is temporarily yours, and you take full advantage of that with your method of physical interaction with Bianca. She eventually stops you, not out of disapproval, but out of the need for a break so she could procure something from her purse. She takes out a small blue rectangular box, which she hands to you, and inside is an analog watch. The clock face is white, with brown numbers and hands, and a silver wristband. As you look in awe, your mind eventually turns to horror as you realize that, in your grieving, you had neglected to get a gift for Bianca.

As you reluctantly tell her, she is visibly annoyed in her movements, but she at leasts acts understanding in the words she says. However, as you explain that it was your grief for Ruth that led you to forget, Bianca gets significantly more upset, and yells that you don’t care about her. You apologize, but tell her that having your best friend die in your arms could muddle up the life you otherwise knew. She tells you to stop being such a bitch about it, and it’s been enough time; get over it. She’s tired of always feeling like the second most important girl on your mind. You tell her she doesn’t understand, and wish she would be more empathetic. She explains that she wasn’t beaten up this long even when her mom died, so it’s not that she doesn’t understand, it’s that you’re weak. You let her know that you can’t imagine how awful a person someone would have to be to be so accepting of their own mother’s death. To this, she responds by striking you on the cheek with her nails, cutting your face, and you strike her back. Your hand slams on the side of her head and knocks her aside. With tears welling up her eyes, she lets you know how much of a faggot you are before kicking over a potted plant, running out of your home, and slamming the door behind her, leaving you standing with an upturned plant and a claw mark on your face.


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. S.l.: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018.

This novel tells a story of a young girl in high school was sexually abused and how she dealt with it. In my novel, there is also a high school girl who is sexually abused, and while I plan to have her deal with it in a different way than the character in this book dealt with it, the thought process of the girl in Speak will be useful, as I am both not a girl and I have never been sexually abused. It becomes difficult to personally relate with a character who is, so to have some sort of reference to how this girl dealt with it, keeping in mind that people deal with the same thing in different ways, is useful to writing such a character.

Asher, Jay. 13 Reasons Why. New York: Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017.

Over the past year, 13 Reasons Why has been the big boy of stories about depression. People seem to criticize it a lot for how unrealistic the story is. It’s too theatrical, and it seems like it’s trying to make a show out of a mental illness. The tragedy of losing a close friend doesn’t really seem as fleshed out as it could and probably should have been. In my story, I want to avoid these sorts of things. My novel will probably seem very theatrical; the characters go through some particularly extravagant events, so I’m constantly worried about trying to keep it as realistic as possible. 13 Reasons Why is very useful as a reference to making sure I don’t fall too far out of real life.

Green, John. Paper Towns. New York: Penguin Books, 2015.

One of the things I wanted to do when setting out to write this novel was to write a book that had a resolution that was not a traditional “happy ending”. In Paper Towns, there is a resolution, and the ending feels like an ending, but it’s certainly not the expected ending. The main characters, who we expected to meet back together and start a romance or something along those lines was far from what actually happened. Instead it’s more of a somber ending, where the story is over, so it’s a resolution, but it breaks expectations. That’s something I want to emulate in my writing.

Mathieu, Jennifer. The Truth About Alice. New York: Square Fish, Roaring Brook Press, 2015. =

In this novel, the main character “causes” the death of another character, but it was due to something she had limited control over, which was the irresponsibility of the other person, yet the main character feels guilty for the death. In my story, there will be a similar dynamic of the main character “causing” a death that he has limited control over, yet he feels mostly responsible and very guilty about it. I’ll use The Truth About Alice as a reference for the dynamic that I’m trying to create.

McCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. London: Picador, 2010.

This book inspired me to write a novel in the first place. I really enjoyed the storytelling style of both the book and the movie. They both use a minimalist style: there is the story, and that is it. There is no explanation as to why the story went the way that it did other than the logical conclusions that the reader made themselves. The events are described, using limited figurative language or attempts to call on emotion. There is no real explanation as to why things happened, leaving the reader to have to justify the events themselves. I really want to emulate that.

Niven, Jennifer. All The Bright Places. NY, NY: Ember, 2016.

In this novel there are two troubled people, one male and one female, and they both are considering suicide by jumping off of a building, which happens to be the same building at the same time, but after a conversation, they both choose not to do so and they become friends. One of the characters in my novel does actually kill themselves by throwing themselves off of a building, and the main character feels very guilty because he feels like he hadn’t done enough to stop that. The fact that both of the characters in All The Bright Places are considering suicide and then are convinced not to by someone else shows that, if the main character had done more, maybe he could have saved his friend. Any evidence I can get that would justify the guilt the main character has for a death that is almost totally not his fault is something that I find useful.

Shen, X., X. Zhu, Y. Wu, Y. Zhou, L. Yang, Y. Wang, Q. Zheng, Y. Liu, S. Cong, N. Xiao, and Q. Zhao. "Effects of a psychological intervention programme on mental stress, coping style and immune function in percutaneous coronary intervention patients." PloS one. January 22, 2018. Accessed January 24, 2018.

This is a study on the effects of therapy on depressed patients. The result is that therapy helps depressed people, which conceptually seems obvious, but one of the things I have learned through my research is that depression is very unpredictable. This basic understanding, while seemingly obvious and useless, is incredibly useful because the main character will end up very guilty for their friend’s death because he didn’t get her help. The fact that getting her help would have maybe saved her life makes the grief actually feel much more relevant and justified.

Smith, April R., Tracy K. Witte, Nadia E. Teale, Sarah L. King, Ted W. Bender, and Thomas E. Joiner. "Revisiting Impulsivity in Suicide: Implications for Civil Liability of Third Parties." Behavioral sciences & the law. 2008. Accessed January 24, 2018.

This article is on the liability of third parties, such as prisons and universities, in a person’s suicide. It speaks of this in a legal sense, and the prior understanding was that there was too little predictability in suicides, so there is not much those parties can do to prevent them. However, new information is showing that there generally is some sort of plan. One of the comparisons made was to that of an umbrella in a car: people include an umbrella in their car to plan for a rainy day, and generally don’t think about that plan until the day it actually rains. There is some event that leads to a final suicide, but that does not mean the act was fully impulsive. This serves as a sort of justification to the characters’ deaths, and the feeling of grief is reasonable as the plan of suicide was mentioned.

Vizzini, Ned. It's Kind of a Funny Story. New York: Hyperion, 2015.

In this novel, the main character is a young adult whose life seems to be falling apart. Things were fine, and then it seemed like all sorts of things just started to fail and it eventually drove him to wanting to kill himself. His response to this was to call a suicide hotline, and he got placed into a mental institution, and the story proceed from there. In my novel, I want to have a similar story of life seems fine, but then everything starts to fall apart and drives a character insane. The additional story inside of the mental institution is not particularly useful, but there are friendships that form between multiple troubled people, so that could be helpful.

"Major Depression." National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed January 24, 2018.

This sort of story that I’m writing seems to be told a lot. Depression in high school has plenty of novels written about it, almost to the point of thinking that there can’t possibly be that many stories to tell. However, this statistic shows that there is an enormous amount of adolescents that are depressed, justifying the story. While the outcome of the story is a little extreme, there are so many people in the world and so many of them are depressed that surely this story can happen at least once.