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.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea. Newspapers and magazines are a gold mine for this, imagine the possibilities!

    I love the way Margaret Laurence uses photographs in the Diviners. More as a plot device than a jumping off point, the photographs themselves are part of the story, used to show Morags past. Hard to do well, surely.