One Year to a Writing Life – April – The Short Story and the Short-short

Boy, did it take me a while to get around to writing this post! I was a bit burnt out on blogging after the A to Z challenge, I think. Anyway, through some miracle I managed to do the Chapter 4 exercises from One Year to a Writing Life during April in spite of said challenge and Camp NaNoWriMo. They are, admittedly, not my best work but the point her is to practice. Chapter 4 deals with the short story and the short-short, and it contains four exercises.

It’s funny, when I read the beginning of this chapter I thought “good, finally some fiction”. After all, fiction has generally been more my thing than non-fiction. In spite of that, I had the hardest time coming up with topics to write about for the exercises in this chapter, and ended up doing all four exercises in the last week of April. In fact, I had such trouble thinking up a short story that for the first exercise, which was to write the beginning of a short story, I ended up rewriting an old idea instead of doing a brand new one. Here it is:

As the sun begins to crawl down past the horizon, she wakes up. The room is dark, some light peering in behind the thick black curtains. Outside she can hear a few birds still singing, some children playing soccer, cars going by, someone on a bike, someone else walking their dog. When the heavy feeling in her head begins to clear, she reaches out towards her bedside table and her fingers wrap around the light chain. Pulling it towards her, she slips it around her neck and places the clock that hangs from it on her chest. The metal is cold but it doesn’t faze her. The clock is small, not even an inch across, and the front features the face of an owl surrounded by a laurel of leaves. It’s nothing special, a trinket bought by a friend long ago, but she had worn it every day, almost since it happened. The quiet tick-tock, which she can hear through any din, has become indispensable to her, a reminder that however it may seem she is still alive.

The second exercise was to rewrite that same beginning in the 1st person instead of the 3rd person (or vice versa). Like so:

As the sun begins to crawl down past the horizon, I wake up. My room is dark, some light peering in behind the thick black curtains. Outside I can hear a few birds still singing, some children playing soccer, cars going by, someone on a bike, someone else walking their dog. When the heavy feeling in my head begins to clear, I reach towards the bedside table and my fingers wrap around the light chain. Pulling it towards me, I slip it around my neck and place the clock that hangs from it on my chest. The metal is cold but it doesn’t faze my. The clock is small, not even an inch across, and the front features the face of an owl surrounded by a laurel of leaves. It’s nothing special, a trinket bought by a friend long ago, but I have worn it every day, almost since it happened. The quiet tick-tock, which I can hear through any din, has become indispensable to me, a reminder that however it may seem I’m still alive.

I was actually really happy with this exercise, mainly because it made me realize that I think this particular short story will do much better in the 1st person. I tend to default to writing in the 3rd person but I’m beginning to think I should use the 1st person more often, at least for shorter pieces.
Exercises 3 and 4 moved on from the short story to the short-short, with the former being to begin a short-short and the latter being to finish it. Now, this is a format I really like. I don’t like short fiction often but when I do it’s normally short-shorts or flash fiction; I find they suit me better than the traditional short story. In spite of that, I wasn’t terribly happy with the result of this exercise. I really liked the idea I had, but I just don’t feel I pulled it off very well. We’ll see if I rewrite it one day. Here it is (in one fell swoop, since Exercise 4 was just to write the end to Exercise 3):

The text

 

She still hadn’t answered my text. It was all right. It was still before 10 am, she could very well still be in bed. I was having breakfast when I checked my phone, sipping tea from a large turquoise cup and talking with gran about taking a trip to Gothenburg together in the summer. I shouldn’t have messaged so early but sometimes your fingers get the best of you.

 

She still hadn’t answered my text. It was all right. It was noon, by now they were probably with family having Easter Saturday lunch. Dad was giving me an introductory lesson in bridge when I checked my phone. “You’re card minded.” He said. “Bridge’ll suit you.” The rules were confusing in their plentitude but the game still appealed to me. We played two rounds with open cards so he could demonstrate to me how it worked, and then I checked my phone again.

 

She still hadn’t answered my text. It was all right. We were sitting down to a late Easter lunch when I checked my phone. Pie, eggs, smoked salmon and dad’s home pickled herring including my favorite, the vodka and lime one. And snaps, naturally. For desert, my mom’s redcurrant cake and Easter candy. I checked my phone sporadically throughout the meal, just in case it had buzzed and I hadn’t heard it.

 

She still hadn’t answered my text. It was, slowly, becoming not all right. I was in my room, trying to have a late afternoon nap and sleep off some of the post-food drowsiness, but my mind kept spinning back to how she hadn’t answered my text. Although I told myself time and time again that, whatever the circumstances, she had a very good reason to not have answered, or perhaps to not have seen my text at all, a sick feeling crept over me on my bed. What if something was wrong? I forced myself to sleep and write to pass the time.

 

The text came when I was half asleep, jolting me awake. It took me half a heartbeat to recognize the sound. I want to say that my hand trembled when I reached for the phone. It seems so fitting that it would have, but truth be told I can’t in any great detail remember my own demeanor in that moment. Tragedy, joy, mundane preoccupation; I expected everything and nothing at once. Picking the phone up was like waiting for a die to stop spinning. The text came at 18:53. She was tired but well. The baby had arrived at nine that morning.

All in all, I really enjoyed this chapter, even if I might’ve enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so busy. It had some good pointers and instructions for how to write a good short, or short-short, story, the sort of things that I guess I knew already but don’t always keep in mind. Additionally, it reminded me of how much fun writing in the 1st person can be, and how fitting it is for some stories. A lesson well learned, I think.

Chapter 5, which I plan to start in a day or two, is about Dreams and Writing, which considering the weird-ass dreams I have sometimes could be a lot of fun!

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