Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Unreliable Third

Write a 500 word fragment of a story from the point of view of an unreliable narrator--third person limited (or attached) narration. As the writer, you'll have to both believe the lie and show it to be a lie--the trick of all good fiction, in the end.
(from prompt #3 in The 3 AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

The walk from his house to the liquor store is one cigarette. It matters when he lights the cigarette; sometimes he can make the cigarette last too much longer than the distance, and she stands in the cold waiting for him to finish. He doesn't have money; neither does she, but she pays for things for the two of them. Everyone knows what is going on, in this situation. He left his home, his wife out in Arizona and he came here with needs to be met. She meets them. He yells a lot, he projects loudly and often. He's the guy you hear before he's entered a room and long after he's left, he leaves a mark, but really, he doesn't leave a hole in his absence. His presence stretches, and when he's gone things relax back to normal. He's too much, he's excessive, he lives that way and he pushes that way. At the liquor store he pushes. He suggests, actively, what might be nice. Orange juice, for example. Rum. Chips. Beef jerky. All might be nice, if she wanted to be, but of course she doesn't, she never wants to be nice to him like he is to her. Or so he says, so he thinks. It's written all over, all over their body language. He's taking advantage of her and they both know it, everyone knows it.She buys his little treats, some cold beverage and a snack, she tells him to let her know if there’s anything else. Like a little boy and his mother, he knows how to be good for her. He kisses her with a “Thanks babe!” and its cigarettes he wants. He keeps his hand on her ass and she feels pretty, the prettiest girl in the liquor store, at least. She knows a little about the wife but only as much as he wants her to know. The way he tells it, the wife tricked him into it all, the mean old lady put him down and made him feel stupid and might as well have cut off his balls, she was so emasculating. He left and he ain’t looking back, oh no he ain’t. He’s all about manifest destiny, now; he went west to conquer, to be a man again. No more wifey holding him down and coddling him; he’s got a new girl, a good girl, but everyone knows—he knows it best—she’s too good a girl, too good for him. They head back from the liquor store, he sings a little bit, he lights the cigarette too late and she’s going to be stuck out in the cold with him, keeping him company in the driveway while he inhales and exhales. He sings and even from a distance his voice is heard, singing about freedom, until she does all the world a favor and shushes him, quiets him, stops him from singing his redemption song. Quite rightly, she's embarrassed, embarrassed by his exuberance, his constant needs, his frequent pleas for love and attention, she tells him not to be dumb, not to sing his stupid songs, to be a quiet little boy and let her hold him. And he complies, and things go back to normal, with his very presence finally gone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Imperative

Write a 500 word fragment of a story that is made up entirely of imperative commands. This exercise will be a sort of second-person narration. You'll find yourself struggling to come up with different kinds of commands, unusual ways of beseeching someone to do something. This is what you should be doing with your fiction at all times.

(from prompt #2 in The 3 AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

Listen. Take the 5 South until you get to the exit. Stay in the right lane, the freeway splits; stay on the 5. Call me at that part, actually. Make a right at the exit. Take a right at the first light. Get here soon. Come see me. Call me when the freeway splits. Remember, that's when you're close, at the split, so call me. Stay in the right. Keep going. Just stay on the phone with me. Okay, call me back. Don't go too far. Stop. Figure out where you are, the streets are alphabetical. Tell me what you see in front of you. Name something you see. Let me help you. Listen. Stay in the right, all the way. Keep to the right. Believe me. Stay in the right lane. Don't make a U-turn. Okay, then make a U-turn. Now, give me a chance to figure it out. Let me call you back then. Wait a moment. Calm down. Listen, just keep going. Don't say that. Don't get angry. Don't do this now, don't start a fight. Don't forget how excited I am to be seeing you. Don't forget I love you. Listen to me, just calm down. Tell me more. Tell me everything you can. Don't worry about that. Concentrate on me, on seeing me. Take that right. Take the next one then. Pass the 7-Eleven. Keep going until you see the John Lennon painting. Don't tell me that there isn't a John Lennon painting when I saw one this morning right next to my house. Describe to me what you want me to say, then. So name a place to meet. Drive to the ocean. Try getting lost getting to the ocean. Don't try that hard, just get to the beach. Give me a minute to change. Let me change for you. Understand this is how I am, wanting to look right. Get over it yourself. Give me five minutes, I've waited however long for you. Realize that I hadn't expected to meet you at the beach. Park your car then. Listen to something good while you wait. Thank God you got here finally. Think of how long it's been. Imagine if you'd listened to me and stayed in the right lane. Thank God for the ocean. Feel better. Be calm. Wait for me now, I had to change. Wait wherever you want. Stay in your car. Okay, get out then. Wander around. Don't go so far that you can't find your way back. So go there, fine. Just stay on the phone with me no matter how soon you'll see me. Stay with me please. Pretend it's okay. Let it be okay. Go ahead, look around you, you'll see me. Just stay where you are. Just let me come to you. Let go, don't be frustrated anymore, I can see you. Stay right there, stay in the right place. Be happy there's no way for either of us to get lost here with you straight in front of me. Listen. Take me now.

The Reluctant I

Write a 600-word first-person story in which you use the first person pronoun (“I” or “me” or “my”) only two times—but keep the “I” somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing. It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first person narration. Show us quickly who is observing the scene.
(from prompt #1 in The 3 AM Epiphany)

Read my response:

Sunday after the show we slept in late, perversely exercising the right to be lazy as babies in response to a hangover. This means not moving upon waking, except to pee, and this is why iPods were invented. Because as much as people dance, that is a quarter of the amount of rest they will feel entitled to the next day, assuming the involvement of alcohol and the lack of any inclination to dance while sober. So it was a quiet house, filled with delicate white earbuds and heavy heads, all of us maintaining the lowest level of wakefulness.

Until the realization that all the equipment lay in a van that didn’t belong to anyone in the band and that may or may not be driving towards east county that day, and then of course everyone moved slowly towards the door in a backwards race where the winner is the one who never got there. I won.

The boys left, grouchy and bitter and mumbling vaguely threatening observations about coffee and headaches, but neither one really expected sympathy, and none was given. Drinking and the morning after have been dealt with enough times that unless an arrest or nudity occurs, there isn’t much to say about it. And even then, it’s got to be a pretty spectacular arrest or unexpected nudity. Like if the nudity came from the arresting officer.

The house should have been quiet and undemanding, that was the prize for winning the “Who Wants to Leave Least?” Race, and for about four minutes it was. And then there was a window being smashed, and then there was some banging, and some crashing, and some throwing about of things, and two guys running from the house into a car idling in the alley, and then it was done. And it was a fire in the downstairs bedroom. And the house was neither quiet nor undemanding; fire demands attention like an angry girlfriend, and any moment wasted to gather thoughts allows the rage to gain control. It was a time to react, to rush to action, but most importantly this was a moment that allowed no thoughts of self to interfere with what had to be done.

The fire manifested as three small blazes: one in an open dresser drawer that held softly worn T-shirts, another burning on the floor, fueled by magazines and bills and post-it notes with phone numbers. The third, the smallest, blazed curiously on seemingly nothing but the wood varnish of a small desk that had been acquired second-hand from a lucky encounter in an alley. Broken glass lay under the window, but in spite of the breeze smoke had gathered in the room and contributed to an otherwordly atmoshphere; not only was the whole situation confusing, it actually looked like a scene from a nightmare or a bad adolescent drawing.

So as the two sleepy boys carried their familiar instruments, lifting amps and pedals and various components of a drum set with the leisurely pace expected for the morning after the show, they did not hear the first, second, or third phone call. And probably they talked about getting a greasy burrito, with spicy fire sauce, while an actual fire was being addressed by this girl, more alert than ever, carrying every available vessel with the quickened pace of someone who has suddenly realized that the race had started without her, and the winner was the one who had control. I won.
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