Writing Calisthenics

AvatarA collection of short stories, essays, and exercises to keep my brain from rusting between larger works.

Short Story Tutorial Submission - Part 1.

 (See this for details.  Here's the exercise:
I want you to write about one of two people —or both, if you’re so inclined.

1. One who sees and hears a street musician
2. The street musician.

Don’t at this stage tell me a story. Or create a structure. Or describe where we are. No. What I want you to do is merely describe the person. Not his or her physical appearance, unless it might be relevant to what they are such as blindness, but how they are feeling and why they’re there doing what they’re doing. I want to have a feel for the kind of people they are without your telling me they’re, say, old, grey-haired and miserable or young, troubled and penniless. Show me.

Only write a short (please) paragraph about one (or both) person(s). Don’t worry about how you write it. It can be in note form, if you like. Don’t try and write something polished and perfect in order to impress me. In fact, I most definitely don’t want perfection at this stage.

And here's a personal note.  I'm doing background work for a novel about a suburbanite who turns to busking as an escape from convention and the ordinary in a middle-class town ruled by conformity and uniformity.   I've assigned myself an exercise: write a short story or character study about an encounter with this street musician from three different perspectives and personalities.  As an added challenge, each of the separate characters would interact with the other two in some way.)

The Busker:  He wears a chicken suit.  This is important because it's awkward and difficult.  The suit is difficult but inside it, he feels safe.  It's a shield that deflects the inevitable derision and prevents it from being personal.  It's a suit of armor that hides his identity and makes him feel his place in the community is secure.  It also creates a barrier that keeps his unacceptable but unstoppable joy from leaking into the public.  It's a joy peppered with the tiniest twinge of spite.  The hour or two he spends each day in the suit can be humid or freezing cold, but unlike the other twenty-some hours that make up each day, they are anything but empty and ordinary.  It's an hour or two where he has impact and meaning and value - if only to himself - and none of it is measured in dollars.

Observer #1: The crowd around the busker is an impediment.  It's a leech sucking up valuable resources - his resources - and slows down the egress to his car.  He stands taller, he pushes his sunglasses tight against his face and pulls down his baseball cap: he is apart from the crowd, better than them, literally above them.  He strides, elbows out.  He is important and every action must show it.  Anyone consuming what is his is an obstacle to be overcome, by force if necessary.  He does commission math on today's sale in his head but even as the figure grows, the furrow in his brow deepens: the more that becomes available to him, the more the crowd in front of him becomes his competition in obtaining it.

Observer #2: He doesn't know what to think of this street musician.  Literally.  He's lived here 17 years and never seen anything like this before.  The music draws him in because it's old and he recognizes it.  He's curious, but has no parameters to react within, so he's cautious.  At the same time, the crowd slows his exit and irritates him more than angers: it makes him wonder why The City isn't doing something about it.  Is this some sanctioned event?  It must be.  Surely there's some City ordinance about playing in public like this, dressed  — well — dressed like that.  He's confused and he looks for posters or signs, looks to the crowd, looks at their reactions for how he's supposed to respond to this.  He allows himself a brief, non-committal moment of detached enjoyment before returning to his routine.

Observer #3: He's scared.  He's anxious, frightened, completely exhilarated, and fired.  There's a severance check on the way but they may lose the house anyway.  Maybe not lose it, but be forced to sell it.  And he's fine with that.  Beyond fine actually, he's relieved.  His suit and tie suddenly feel like a costume for a long-running play that's just ended.  He steps around the corner and immediately recognizes the busker's tune because it's the question he's been asking himself for months now: "Who are you?".  His heart hammers in his chest because he may not yet know who he is, but he finally knows who he's not, and this failed experiment called "life in suburbia" is it.  The realization makes his heart and legs leap with unrestrainable joy.


May 21, 2010 at 3:01 PM Paula RC said...

I think it's good to work out which is the best point of view to take whether writing a novel or a short story. Doing your homework will save you a lot of time later on.

Good luck

May 24, 2010 at 9:06 AM Mark Juric said...

Very true, and it's a tricky thing. I feel a stronger voice in first person but there's too much ground to cover with multiple characters to be able to do it justice in that perspective. It's tough. I'm looking at some literary devices to try and take advantage of multiple perspectives.

June 21, 2010 at 12:48 PM Perplexio said...

I've read some books in the first person that shift POV from character to character, usually each chapter focuses on a different character. I may have read one or two books over the years written in the first person but they shifted from character to character within the same chapters, but I don't recall what those were. Generally you'd want to create a break, line break, asterisk break, whatever to indicate the shift from one character to another.

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