Tag Archives: Get Your Story Started

Step 4 of John Smolens’ “Get Your Story Started”

Continuing in the fiction mode, here comes Step 4 of The Writer magazine’s “Get Your Story Started,” by John Smolens, verbatim:

4 Now write again, trying a different approach or perspective (60 minutes).  Consider the material you gathered from Step 3 again; this time, however, vary your approach.  If in the last session you wrote in the third person, this time work in the first person; if your last session was primarily narrative, then this time try to create a scene with dialogue. 

The point is to mix things up, to see things from different perspectives, which to a large degree is what fiction is all about–it offers the writer a unique sense of freedom.  It asks you to explore not only the exterior world through a character’s eyes, but to explore her inner world–why she sees things the way she does.

Since last time I wrote in first person with much dialogue, this time I will write primarily narrative in the third person.  Here is my response.

Start time: 9:02.

NYC2123 Laney

Image via Wikipedia

When Andrew left, Arlene was sleeping and had all the shades pulled down against the sunshine.  This kind of sun was unusual for Western NY in February, so Andrew took the clear skies as a sign he wouldn’t find any resistance.

Arlene insisted she couldn’t drive, so she wouldn’t miss the car.  Andrew didn’t wake her to say goodbye because she knew he was leaving and hadn’t bothered to say a word to him since she found out.  Andrew didn’t think about when she’d see him next or if she’d see him at all.  She planned that Andrew would return for her rheumatology appointment next Friday.  He knew better.

When he saw Laney, it was his life calling him back.  Sure, Arlene allowed him to fly Laney around the region, but she reacted like Laney was his mistress.  Really, she had more reason to be jealous than she knew.  Laney was a small plane–a single engine, a dove-gray beauty that had been mostly idle since Andrew’s last flight, a night he’d almost left.  About five months ago, Arlene had checked herself into the ER with pain so searing she claimed she was dying.  By midnight, she felt fine, and the doctor confirmed she could leave.  When they walked into their house, Arlene’s cave, she poured some Shiraz in a glass to toast her recovery.  That’s when Andrew took Laney out last.  Arlene passed out after a few more glasses, so Andrew flew Laney around the Lake Ontario, glimpsing how the waves kissed at the shore.  With each breaking wave, he imagined the fish pushing further into a warm hibernation, and Arlene falling further into herself.

Today was the matrimonial flight, Andrew kept telling himself.  He left his wedding ring on the speckled counter at home, next to the wine rack, where Arlene would be sure to find it.  Even his fingers could feel the difference.  There wouldn’t be much left for him to say.

Jordan, his nephew, had been managing the airport since Andrew’s retirement.  He agreed to get Laney ready for Andrew’s flight today, but didn’t know he wasn’t coming back.  Arlene resented that Jordan inherited Andrew’s airport and the air crafts.  Besides Laney.

Even the control Andrew felt, the palpable lifting of the wing flaps with the push of the hard charcoal lever, signaled that Andrew might have nothing to do with the passing birds, but could navigate this aircraft without worry about its body and how it might fail.  When he pulled the throttle to its full position, he was assured the plane would move clearly and swiftly into flight.  He would lift off, over the hospital, over his home at Lakeview Terrace, past the town limits and off of the unforgiving land.

End time: 10:16.





Where Fiction Intersects: Step 3 of John Smolens’ “Get Your Story Started”

Instructions from Step 3 of “Get Your Story Started” by John Smolens from The Writer magazine:

3. Write something that links some of the pieces (60 minutes). 

Consider what you recorded when you got out of the house and now write a narrative that attempts to connect some (probably not all) of what you saw and heard.  Establish a single point of view other than your own, and in a voice that is very not you.  It may be based on one of the people you observed, or it may simply emerge from the writing.  If so, you’ve moved away from simply recording your observations towards writing fiction.

E.M. Forster famously encouraged literature to “only connect,” and I believe it’s a good signpost to put in the path of fiction writers.  It gets them thinking about relationships, about cause and effect.

Plane over Hillsboro, Oregon.

Image via Wikipedia

My response to Step 3.  Start time: 9:20.

Arlene holds her cane as though it’s an option, an accessory, like her crimson-rimmed reading specs.  Sure, she’s in control, always in control, but she looks miserable, like a used mop that dries hardened with salt from the winter slush.  She’s weathering, all right.  But I don’t feel sorry.

She told me she was getting drinks tonight, so I know she’s not up to snuff.  “Do not to say a word to me like that last time,” she said to me in the car, so I won’t.  I squeezed her leg anyway, from across the console.  She didn’t flinch.

Now, at least there will be a table between us.  I don’t have to be the good husband, not physically, anyway.

“Arlene!  How wonderful to see you,” Joel, the restaurant manager, says.

Is it?  She’s a wreck.

“Joel.  How have you been?”  Arlene spins her cane out as though it’s her dance partner, not her saving grace.  She wants him to hug her because I don’t.

He does.  Christ, he’s a baby.  Gotta be mid-forties.  Her chin stays put on Joel’s shoulder bone for a long time.  I’m confident that it doesn’t bother me.  Maybe he thinks she’s his grandmother.

“Andrew,” Joel says, thankful to pull from Arlene’s grasp.  “How’s retirement?”

Whys everyone always asking this?  Good.  One step closer to death.

“Fantastic,” I say.  “You know, playing some solitaire, some online poker.”

“Must be nice for you, Arlene, to have Andrew around more,” Joel says.

Is it?

“Yeah.  It’s getting better,” Arlene says.

I smile anyways.

“So how ya feelin’?” Joel asks Arlene, but looks at me.  I’m already sitting, so Joel helps Arlene sit in the booth.  She has that grip on his sweater that shows the yellow tones in her skin.

I’m not saying a word this time.  Last time I had to tell Arlene to keep eating, so she would keep occupied and not tell the whole damned place about her course with illness this time.  She’s lucky.  Some people suffer.

“Oh, Joel.  These shots in my legs.”  She’s gesturing down, as though he can see the pain through her slacks.  “They make me feel like I’m damn pregnant.”

“Sounds rough,” Joel says.  “I wouldn’t know much about that.”

I’m smiling again.  Neither does she, I think.  Even when she was a pretty thing, she was fertile as the Mojave.  Hell, maybe she would have had children to care for her.

“Joel, I’ll have a vodka on the rocks.  If you have time to grab it for me,” Arlene says.  Christ.

“Sure thing, Arlene,” Joel says. “Andrew?”

“I’ll have a coffee,” I say.  It’s gonna be a long night if it’s anything like last night.  I dumped her drink, red wine from a bottle that’d been re-corked on the counter for months.  She wasn’t moving from the living room recliner, that’s for sure, but her mouth was.

That’s when I let it out.  “Arlene, I’m leaving on Tuesday.”

“Where are you going?  And what will I do?”

I was going to leave.  Leave.  Capital L.  My mind was halfway round the world already.  My parents died in Georgia, had a sprawled-out plantation home that my sister keeps now.  I’ll fly Laney out there first.

“I have to meet with Jordan,” I lie.  “He needs some help with Laney.”  She hates that plane, and that I gave my nephew the airport, but I have no one else to pass it to.

We haven’t talked about my trip yet today, but I’m sure when she finishes the glass of vodka Joel has just set in front of her, it will come up.

Joel is a good man.  A bit of a girl, sure, the way he’s so eager to please.  Should have asked him for some Moonshine to see how far he’d go to get it.

“Your coffee, Andrew.  Been out on the plane lately?” Joel asks.  He’s being kind.

Arlene snorts.  Her hair has grayed even more since I’ve retired, or she’s stopped keeping up with it.  She looks god-awful.

“Not lately.  I will as soon as the weather breaks,”  I say.

“Oh, you will?” Arlene asks.

“Wanna come?” I ask Arlene.

“Never did,” she says.

“I can’t believe that Arlene,” Joel says. “I can imagine the rush.  Why haven’t you gone?  In all these years,” he says.

All these years.

“I’m sure the pressure and elevation would do a number on my body,” she says.

Right.  Or her mind.

“Nothing like it,” I say.  “The jolt of the engine, the smooth hop you feel just under the heel.  It’s freeing,” I say.

“Take me out sometime,” Joel says.

“I wouldn’t trust him,” Arlene says.

She doesn’t.  She shouldn’t.

“Sure thing,” I say.

Stop time: 10:37.