Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's all so different from this angle

It's time to change your frame of mind, and start thinking outside the box.
Most of us automatically write in the first person, which makes sense, it's how we view the world on a daily microcosmic level.
But every once and a while we see our selves as omnipotent observers, standing back and taking in things that others don't pick up on--dynamics going on around us.
Often I find I'm too swept up in my routine to really take a look from outside my narrow point of view.
It's a good idea to mix things up on the page as well.
I know I rarely use the third person, or omnipotent point of view, because often I feel it disconnects the reader. However, when done skillfully it can tell us things that our first person narrative wouldn't know, because they're trapped in their brain with all of their biases.
So, here's an idea, write about the same situation from two or three different points of view, first, second, or third person. Second person is the most challenging, speaking directly to "you" like in greeting cards, I've never tried it before, and I don't know if I'm ready yet, but I'll at least try first and third.

The play should have stayed on the page, I say to George as we rise from our seats and make our way to the lobby. I grab my coat to cover my wrinkled dress with the blue ink stain on the hem he said no one would notice but I know they will.
It's January so it's not so odd. George leaves me at the bathrooms and waits in the way too long line for a coffee the way he always does, without a goodbye, just parting ways like old chums.
I stare at my unfortunate reflection.
English professors aren't known for their waif-like movie star bodies. I had to borrow the green dress, as ratty as it is, from my old room-mate.
Tonight after the dreadful play I'm sure George will lean over his mocha-latte-frappa-something and tell me he's taking the internship after all and will be going to Europe. That's that. His tight lips tell me so.
He didn't reach for my hand during the first act, even to commiserate as the old aunt finally died and I know he heard me sigh at the contrived mess.
The women in the bathroom are impossible. I can't look at them, they make me ill with their attention to detail and high hem lines while they line their lips with war-paint.
George 's grey head sticks out from the crowd. He corals me towards the bar with his finger tips.
"You know Frederich from my work, he's the mastermind behind the new hotel downtown."
"Nice to see you Kathryn." Frederich says. He's a pathetic man with a mustache that should be cut off. But he doesn't have a wife to tell him so. He has no one to tell him so. In fact why have I never seen him with anyone?
"Enjoying the play?" I ask. The stains under his arms reach half way down his chest. He rubs his hands together nervously.
"Fifth row centre, perfect spot."
"Now, if only I could hear anything from the fifteenth row, that would be nice. you would think actors could project their voices. Although with the contrived dialogue, who would really want to hear it anyway, I mean really, I have nothing against little people, lesbians, sisters with mental disorders, and a dying aunt with a fortune, but on principle, do they all have to be packed into one play? I think George could barely keep his eyes open." I elbow him in the ribs. He inches away.
His bloodshot eyes getting wider, face flushing, as he stumbles to say something. Frederich shifts nervously from foot to foot.
"Kathryn is an English teacher, you know." says George.
"Yes, well, it's not every one's cup of tea I suppose." Says Frederich, looking nervously around him. Maybe he does have a date.
"I don't know how it got into this year's line-up, especially since the play-write is a virtual unknown, who was it- Harry Norton, Norman, or something? " I say.
"Yes it's Norman. Harry. Well really I think it speaks to the inner struggle of us all seeking out perfection in this capitalistic world." Frederich's devotion to the play is surprising. He wipes his brow with the back of his hand.
"Completely agree Frederich, come on Kathryn, I see Frank over there, he's almost through to the front of the line, maybe he can order us a couple of glasses of Chardonnay, come on." George grabs my arm.
"What is your problem?"
"You never know when to stop do you? And why are you wearing that coat, it's like thirty degrees in here?"
"You know what, go enjoy this wretched play without me. And I'll save you the trouble and pack up your things tonight so you won't have to skulk back in when I'm gone."
The burst of cold air relieves the anger from my pours. But it also makes me recall I have forgotten my scarf and mittens, both sitting in my purse, hidden carefully out of sight under the seat.

"Rebecca was a little quick with her last line, I think she should have let it breath a little, let the audience really wait for it, what do you think Frederich?"
"Sounded great to me, why don't you go get us some coffees?"
"And the sound cue was about two seconds too late at that last exit, I should make a note of that. I don't care if Dominique yells at me again, I want it to be perfect, he can't expect me not to take an interest. I was just so nervous tonight, I mean, they've been rehearsing for a month, but really, It never really sunk in until the curtain came down, and I was like, that was my play, it really was. It's just so amazing." Harry leans in to kiss Frederich on the cheek, but he turns and begins to walk the opposite way down the isle.
He thought Frederich was finally okay with everything.
While Harry helped pick out Frederich's tie earlier that evening, the brown one with the yellow stripe, it occurred to him that this was a new beginning for the both of them.
He has even made room in the bathroom cabinet. But now Frederich is just as distant as he was before. Harry scans the faces of people leaving the theatre. The Shaws, the Wellingtons, and Harringtons. Too many people Frederich knows. Harry recalls what Frederich told him before, about men of a certain age having a harder time with relationships than young ones of twenty five. He will help Frederich move past these jitters.
Harry loves theatre lobbies, especially from the second level. He stares down at the swarms of people, like little bees, congretating in groups, travelling in swarms, mapping their journeys to and from the bathroom, to the bars. Clinking glasses in dramatic tight theatre dresses and fur covered shoulders. Girls in fifties style pink dresses and orange or green hair. Men in corduroy jackets and ties, with that 'I just got out of bed' hair. The same hair Harry is sporting, that cost him 38 dollars out of a jar.
Ah, the theatre, Harry mutters to himself. Everyone wanting to look like they just threw something on, and didn't have to work for it. Just naturally exuberant and sexy.
And they are all here to see his play. His masterpiece.
Frederich has stopped to talk to a silver haired man. Harry doesn't recognize him. An unfortunate looking woman stands beside the man, wearing her camel hair coat. Her back is to him, but he can tell she's homely by the way she slouches. No attractive woman slouches.
Harry plans to take Frederich out for an expensive dinner as a thank you. It was all Frederich and his family connections that made this happen. Harry makes no apologies for it. He encourages it. And though Frederich had never been comfortable with the idea, he never said no.
When Harry had casually mentioned the play to him last year over Chinese food, Frederich said he'd see what he could do.
The theatre's artistic director called Harry Norman a fresh and biting play write. Someone who pushes the boundaries. It was what they had been looking for, an injection of young blood.
Harry knew Frederich must have greased a few palms in the process.
His skeptical friend Joanna told him Frederich was one of the biggest silent benefactors of the theatre. But Joanna was just jealous because her one-woman show was recently turned down at a much smaller theatre. The world wasn't ready for a crazy woman who pissed on stage, and stapled words to her chest.
Frederich looks up to the second floor, and finds Harry leaning on the banister, as though he knows exactly where a play write might stand and observe his admirers.
Harry sees him and waves.
Frederich pretends not to notice.
He feels himself sweating too much.
He realizes he's made a mistake. He never should have given Robert the play to look at. He knew it was as good as a sealed deal, Robert wouldn't turn it down. That's the way things were. When Frederich suggested the wait to the bar was too long, the next month, a second one was built.
Robert adores Frederich's pocket book, and Frederich adores Robert's lobster buffet breakfasts and summer home in Gimli. But now Harry is in the mix. Poor defenseless beautiful Harry, with dreams of being famous.
Frederich doesn't want to see the newspaper tomorrow. Genevieve is reviewing. She is ruthless. Frederich saw her earlier with a sour look on her face, scribbling madly with her little yellow pencil, while she leaned against the wall. Frederich had to curb the urge to introduce himself, try to intercede, step in as the gallant man Harry thought he was. But it was too late. The mutterings of a dissatisfied and confused audience are rumbling around him. He is a maestro gone mad, standing amidst his own dysfunctional orchestra.
A middle aged balding man with sweat stains, and the love of a man he doesn't deserve. He is in over his head.
The play can't be saved. It didn't deserve to be saved. A still birth.
The insipid woman with the fleck of green in her teeth is right. It's a mess, and all he can parrot back is the press release he wrote himself.
Now he will have to deal with the aftermath of his own greed, Harry's heartbreak, and it's all his fault.
Harry waves. Frederich looks away. He can't face those hopeful eyes. Not when he knows twenty years of resentment is waiting for him over the threshold, when Harry's delusional ambition is exposed and he has nothing to cling to. A drinking problem will surface. So will many boys with self-esteem problems. He'll move to Toronto, naturally, where he'll disappear into the abyss of all the other attention starved want-to-bes and end up waiting tables somewhere. In his off time he'll mutter to himself, walking around with grease stained pants and a tattered notebook.
Frederich heads for the door, doesn't bother with his coat.

That worked well I think. I got a little carried away with the length, but when I get going sometimes it's hard to stop, so why bother? My computer doesn't mind, and I hope you don't either.
Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The shutter clicks, and you are revealed

So, I've been reading a lot of Timothy Findley these days, and I've come to notice that's he's very keen to use photos as a valuable tool in story telling. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. If photos are the only device set in place to give the reader a sense of connection with the characters, it often fails, leaving the reader disjointed and standing in the distance, gazing at the novel from afar.
However, if used in a more natural way to move the plot along, I think photos can be a great way of setting the scene, and instant dynamics between characters.
Here's a good exercise. You can use a picture of your relatives that you have around the house, or like me you can just randomly google pictures. If you're using a photo of someone you know, resist the urge to describe them. Look for the interaction, or lack of interaction between the people in the picture, what are they doing, what are their expressions? What could they possibly by thinking? Is there anything written on the back?
You can describe the picture in the writing or omit it...but use it to describe what was happening just before this picture, or just after....or the the whole before--during---after sequence. It could be good fuel for a short story at a later date.

Here we go.

Fran didn't want to put on her underwear that morning. They itched, especially where the stitches were, well, used to be. The doctor said they were the kind that melted, or disappeared, or some such new-age nonsense. She trusted that the greasy haired twenty year old doctor as much as she trusted that nurse they saddled her with, who wore teddy bears on her clothes thinking it would cheer her up. But they didn't. And now she --Happy--or Charity--or some perky named creature, leaned over her at the edge of the bed and handed her the flesh coloured girdle.
"Now Ruth, come on, you want to look your best for Jimmi don't you?"
"I don't have to look any way for anyone. I don't care about that old goat."
"That's not what I heard." She chuckled and tried to pull Ruth's veiny leg through the hole, while Ruth lay limp, arms at her sides.
"Why what did you hear now? I'm no flirt. Everyone knows I'm George's. Did you hear something different?"
"Come on Ruthie, just work with me here. Didn't you say your nephew was coming today, after the movie? Don't you want to look nice for him?"
"Who was that?"
"Kenny, isn't he coming by today after work?"
"Oh, well. You'd know that better than I. Tuesday is it?"
"Sunday dear. Where's that Anne Geddes calendar I got for you?"
"Trash. No babies belong in a cabbage. Cabbage is for soup. Not for pictures. No one wants to look at that."
Ruth put her legs through the underwear, and let whats-her-name put on the turquoise dress. Her favourite. The one with the white trim that George had said made her look sixty. she would let the girl win this time. But only this time.

Two doors down Jimmy pulled open the drawer beside his bed, and grabbed his black bible. The good news one, with the big print.
"You almost ready Mr. Wellington? I hear it's going to be 'As Good As it Gets'". He shoved the bible behind his back. Didn't think the door was open. Can't trust a man to fill a woman's shoes. A woman would have had the decency to knock. Whatever happened to all the women around here anyway? He wondered.
"Well, I sure hope it gets better than this."
"No sir, the movie, that's the title of the movie." Jimmy stared at him. He wished he would leave.
"I'll Come back in a bit." He closed the door behind him.
Jimmy carefully got up onto his walker and hoisted himself into the yellow chair in the corner of the room. He opened the bible.
Inside he read the inscription. To my loving son.
Then searched for the flap. The golden bottle hidden between the pages. Canadian Club. That kid at the reception desk was finally good for something. The one with all the hoops, that looks like a lion tamer, or some kind of circus freak.
He took a swig, and then another.
Today would be the day.

The parade of wheelchairs began at exactly 11:15. Half an hour before the movie would start. Everyone wanted a good seat, so they fought it out like children. There was nothing else to do at Kildare Home that morning. It was the prime time of the day.
The staff had tried to organize evening movies, thinking they'd be even more popular, but no one showed up. They had all fallen asleep after lunch.

Ruth let whats-her-name dab a little rouge on her cheeks, but just a little, she didn't want to look like a prostitute. Those tarts on the TV that gave her a cold sweat, bearing it all to the world. Showing off parts Ruth had forgotten about, or had never really noticed until they were already covered with fat.
She examined her face and almost smiled. George would be happy. Maybe Jimmi would even be there. Not that she cared at all. But she'd heard he had surgery on his knee, and she was hoping he'd be up and around by now.

The lounge was packed. Walkers filled the Isle, and people were jammed onto the small couches, lined with plastic, just in case.
"Ruth, I'm afraid you're going to be over here darling."
"Not next to the ficus. I hate plants. Their leaves are so unpredictable. They're always poking me. Where's George?"
"I don't see him honey."
"Fine. then." Ruth let the girl take her walker, as she heaved herself onto the couch, next to Mildred who smelled about like her name almost implied...like mildew, and mothballs.
When she left, she scanned the room again. Even with her cataracts, she was certain she could see better than the little twit who hadn't even really looked for George.

Jimmi had a prime spot. Front row, so he didn't have to crank the hearing aid, and close to the bathroom, just in case. He saw Ruth come in. The blue dress. He loved that one on her, made her look like a librarian, with those black glasses. She was still a looker, even now. She turned all of the silver heads as she made her way by in the walker. Such determination, even after the fall she took which nearly broke her hip. It had wounded her pride more than anything.
Jimmi remembers the day he met her the first time, in the lunch room. Chicken soup. She picked out all the noodles and put them on the napkin.
"I'm not going to be in here long. my daughter's moving to Florida that's why I'm here. I'm not like all you old people. I'm only seventy seven you know. I should be living at home." She said. What could Jimmi say? Nothing. That was five years ago, and he was still in love with her.
He tried not to look when she came in, but couldn't help it.
Frank was sitting next to him with the chunky legs that took up the whole couch. Frank had a habit of picking his nose, so Jimmi didn't want to be near him.
"Hey Frank, can you check with Betty over there when the movie's going to start?"
"Uh, well, I don't know Jimmi. I already have a spot."
"Don't worry about it, just go and ask Betty for me, would you? I gotta whiz, and I need to know if I have time."
"Okay, fine." Frank's brown pants were stained with ketchup from lunch. His underwear was hanging out. Jimmi didn't have the heart to tell him.
"Hey Ruth, Ruthie, hey, how's it going?" He yelled across the room.
Ruth pretended not to hear.
"Hey Ruthie, come here, I want to tell you something."
"What?" Ruth leaned forward.
"Come here." She got up and left her purse in her chair. It had her puffer in it, just in case.
"What do you want Jimmi?" She pushed the walker slowly across the room, and sat down in the seat next to him.
"Just wanted to know if you wanted to sit here?"
"You made me come all the way over just for this? What kind of man are you anyway? This is Frank's seat. I saw him here not two minutes ago."
"Nah, he can sit over there. No problem, come on Ruthie, sit by me."
She could already hear the flutter of hushed voices around her, it was spreading already. She was the talk for sure. She was becoming such a fluzy. First there was her kiss with George, the excitement of winning bingo got the better of her. Now this, with Jimmi clearly sweet on her. It was too much.
Jimmi was looking good though. Although his ears stuck out, at least he still had all his teeth.
And he smelled good, like soap. Most of the men around there smelled like sour milk.
He had been handsome once, she could tell. The way he carried himself, and smiled at her. She had been pretty too, so they were evenly matched. Not that any of it mattered now.
One of the nurses announced the movie just before it began. She had a little snap and shoot camera.
"This one's for the wall!" She said, aiming it at the crowd of sunken cheeks and brittle bones.
The hum of hearing aids being turned up grew louder, like the hum of mosquitoes on a hot summers night.
It was as the nurse clicked the picture that Jimmi bravely grabbed Ruth's hand, capturing the flicker of Ruth's smile before she had a chance to compose herself again.

Okay, so that was a little longer than expected, but you get the idea. You can use it to start, or end a story. Basically photos just get you thinking. We all have ideas about what we think people were doing at the time, and sometimes they can be great tools just to get things moving, and suddenly you have a little story.
Happy writing.