Archive for April, 2012


Introduction to Short Story

The idea for the characters and plot in my short story came about very spontaneously. The choice for setting the story in a drive-in is due to my familiarity with it, and also the fact that creating a suspenseful story in such a place is unsuspecting and interesting in itself. For the rest of my ideas, however, I’m not quite sure of their origins. I certainly wanted the story to depict an emotional relationship between two people, and I thought that the strongest way to portray that would be through the love of a father for his daughter. A lot of what the final draft is now came about during the process that I was writing it; I knew very little of what my story was going to be about before actually writing it.

After my first draft, I realized just how much the story is centered around the relationship between Jinny and her father. Due to the strong creation of this relationship, the missing parts of the characters’ backgrounds became more evident, and frustrated readers for not knowing enough about them. In my final draft, I shed light on these missing pieces (or at least try to): Jinny’s mother, the aftermath of Jinny’s first boyfriend, the reason for the narrator’s “spying,” the explanation of the narrator’s love for nature sounds, etc. I do this not solely for the sake of preventing confusion, but all for the sake of building up the foundation of the relationship between the narrator and Jinny, nurturing it to really produce the meaning at hand: the strengthening of two peoples’ relationship with one another amidst unfortunate circumstances. Compared with my first draft, this story has really taken a lot of turns to portray this meaning more powerfully, especially in the ending. Hopefully my short story will be engaging, gripping in suspense, and creating satisfaction in its new conclusion.

Word Document

 

There she is!  She’s still as bright and healthy as ever. Even in a silly green and yellow uniform, her innocently happy smile causes her to radiate the moment she comes outside. I smile in excitement, ready to give her my wrapped birthday gift, until she gets closer, skating towards me with a bag of food in her hands. Worry suddenly strikes me, and I duck behind the dashboard of my car. The sound of roller skates scrapes the asphalt to a sudden stop. My heart rate has become much faster. At the knock on my window, I jerk my head up to answer, but hit it with the bottom of my steering wheel. Rapidly rubbing the forming bulge on my head, I open my eyes and stop in surprise to see a teenage boy employee staring wide-eyed into my car. I roll down my window, and off to the side see my daughter, Jinny, head back inside.

I’m at a drive-in. Fascinating idea for a fast food restaurant: stalls are set on each side of a parking lot, all lined uniformly at an angle for people to park their cars. You make your order without having to get out of your car, and nice, young people come out from the nearby kitchen and bring you your food on roller skates. Just a week ago they were walking to each car bundled up in puffed-up jackets in the snowy weather, but with spring coming in and the weather warming up, they’ve become as lively as ever skating and serving food with bright smiles on their faces. The food here is not anything spectacular; I’m just here to see my daughter, who I haven’t been seen for four years since she left for college. On top of that, I’m listening to my favorite CD. My wife gave it to me on my birthday, the year before she passed away. I wasn’t able to take her love for nature sounds seriously, but now I can’t help but listen to this CD every day. Mix the sound of chirping jungle birds, the smell of fresh grass and blooming flowers, a brightly lit parking lot in the night, and I feel at utmost peace.

After I embarrassingly apologize for making the boy wait, he assures me, “No problem,” hands me my food, and skates back into the kitchen. Holding the gift in my hand, I blankly stare into the kitchen and catch a glimpse of Jinny hard at work wiping off a table. With the back of her hand, she gently wipes the sweat off on her forehead, and with a focused look on her face she disappears out of sight into another area of the kitchen. Once again, I can’t bring myself to look at Jinny. With a sigh, I put down the gift in the back of my car. The CD turns to a new track, and with the sound of crickets chirring and owls hooting in the night, I pry the burger from its wrapping and take a bite.

The last time I was able to celebrate Jinny’s birthday was when she was becoming a mature teen, or “sweet sixteen,” I guess I should say. I’ve never been good with holding birthday parties, so in preparation to celebrate Jinny’s birthday, for a few days I made a commitment to watch a show called, “My Super Sweet 16,” Every night after coming home from work, I would sink into the couch in the living room and watch with shock this show in which girls are thrown unbelievably grand parties for their 16th birthday party. The most stunning episode was one in which the birthday girl held her party in New York City, watches a concert performed by a clearly popular celebrity, and is given a sleek, sports car that looks well more expensive than all of my possessions combined. I don’t think anyone has had their eyes open without blinking as long as I did while watching that incomprehensible show. I watched the birthday girl get into her new, luxurious “gift” until I quickly changed the channel as I heard the Jinny’s footsteps coming down the stairs.

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For my repurposed art assignment, I wrote and performed a song inspired by the last scene in my short story, in which the father struggles to bear shame in front of his traumatized daughter. My song is intended to portray his enormous desire to justify himself to regain the trust of his daughter, through a solemn, intense melody, and through lyrics written in a first-person perspective. During the composition process, I unexpectedly discovered a mix of poetry and song: the lyrics have the poetic element of action and description, while also having lines with the sole purpose of producing a memorable melody (particularly, the lines that have “tell her” in common, repeated within the chorus).

I was in all honesty, sincerely troubled in the process of deciding how to recreate this scene in my short story. When I first heard this assignment, I considered music, the one area of creative expression that I may possibly have talent in, but understanding the great difficulty that comes with song composition and my own inexperience with music (I learned to play guitar and sing myself and do so merely as a hobby), I quickly turned that idea down. At the same time, however, I didn’t want to recreate the scene into prose or poetry. I wanted to try something new and fresh. But as I pondered the possibilities that were listed in my instructor’s alternative suggestions: playwriting, sculpture, photography, illustration, etc., I panicked after realizing my lack of talent in all of those areas. Seeing no better option, I settled with my initial proposition and persevered through grime and fire to create my first vocal composition ever.

As embarrassing as this is for me, here it is: I Want to Tell Her

 

Lyrics:

My tears fade away

Into the rain pouring on my face.

The sky above grows dark,

The sincerity of heart

Hidden now.

 

I look into her devastated eyes and

Want to tell her

 

I want to tell her

To trust me

I have to tell her

To give me a chance

I must now tell her

To see beyond what she sees now.

 

But my lips stay still

She turns her broken gaze away

My heart is tearing into two

But

 

Move on with your life

Do what you want

I love you nonetheless

A short story’s key features – plot, characterization, and theme – are portrayed within the very first paragraph of the story, “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” by Tom Perrotta. The first sentence of the story alone expresses a surprising grudge that the main character has towards a Little League team, and places a stout stake of emotion when Jack narrates, “I wanted them to lose.” This sentence strongly implies the narrator’s great focus for such a negative goal, and due to the strength of that implication, the inner conflict of Jack is established and remains prominent as the meaning of the story is further complicated and revealed throughout, like a stake planted in the ground on a frighteningly stormy day. In the next few sentences, this stake of resentment is hammered into the pages even more as Jack specifies his almost cruel wishes for the Wildcats team to be “humiliated” and “taunted mercilessly,” and by the end of the first paragraph, the narrative has smoothly transitioned from an initially simple concept of hate to a deep stake for theme: the struggle in dealing with shameful feelings.

Already, in this first paragraph, Jack’s unique character is presented through his harsh thoughts of aiming to see the Wildcats team lose and of his willingness to sever his hand to hide his shamefulness. Also due to this paragraph, the story has been well established for the story to develop; the setting of the story is a Little League baseball game, the main character is a grown man and serves as umpire for the game, and most importantly, the main character’s desires are staked into the story to shed meaning as the story progresses.

The next paragraph further clarifies the real reason for Jack’s negative attitude towards the Wildcats team: his resentment towards their coach. Immediately after the narrator describes himself with disappointment – “feeling huge and bloated” – Jack describes the greatly contrasting coach, Carl; first by his perspective of the physically fit man, and second by actual physical physique (“ripping muscles”). Jack’s description of Carl as a “shamelessly vain man” is the eye-catcher in this paragraph. Recalling the stake placed in the paragraph before about Jack’s inner conflict in freely exposing his shameful thoughts, the fact that his resentment towards Carl is due (at least partly) to their contrast in handling shame is apparent. The insertion of the statement, “A shamelessly vain man,” implies Jack’s disapproving and judgmental perspective towards Carl. Without the existence of that phrase, the description of Carl in this paragraph would merely serve as exactly that – a physical description of a character. Due to the inclusion of this phrase and the thematic stake placed before, however, more insight about the source of Jack’s inner conflict is gained – that he resents Carl for possessing what he lacks.

Although subtle, the revelation of Jack’s contempt for Carl’s well-being in comparison to his own is a result of taking advantage of the first-person perspective. Instead of simply stating that Jack has an inner conflict involving Carl, the narration from Jack completes the task of revealing the conflict in a smooth and complex way. . In my own writing of a short story, I found that my tendency is to leave out instances in which the narrator’s own personal thoughts of a situation or person are expressed, leaving descriptions, and ultimately, the meaning of the story bland. Thanks to first-person narration, both characterization (in this case, that of Carl’s character) and portraying meaning (hiding shame) are carried out in an engaging way by the simple thought of the narrator on a subject.

What is very interesting is that Jack’s resentment towards Carl, similarly to his strong desire for the Wildcats team to lose, is intensified even more when he unexpectedly curses Carl, thinking, “Fuck you.” This phrase represents the great height of Jack’s hatred towards Carl (and therefore, the severity of his inner conflict). In addition, the surprise of Jack’s relationship with Carl itself presents Jack as an even more unique character.

As the story continues, based off of all that is set up in the first couple paragraphs, more of Jack’s personality and inner conflict is expressed through the narrative voice – particularly the instances in which he swears in anger towards Carl, his suspicious description of Lori Chang as “undeniably sexual,” and his violent reaction to his son’s rebellion. Jack’s aggressive, prideful voice is certainly a risky decision for the personality of a main character, since it could cause Jack to be a character that cannot be sympathized with. The choice, however, to consistently use this risky voice, and thus, character, causes Jack’s imperfections to be highly apparent, which can make him instead, very relatable to any reader. Furthermore, creating a relatable character allows sympathy and a deeper desire to see inner conflicts resolved arise.

The plot intensifies throughout story along with the rise of Jack’s character and inner conflict. When the climax of the plot is reached (when Lori is hit in the head with a baseball), much tension is created, as Lori’s life is in question while she is knocked unconscious on the ground, and her seemingly uncaring father, Happy Chang, unexpectedly violently tackles and punches Carl, the person to cause Lori’s injury. As both the plot of the baseball game and Jack’s desire to reunite with his family escalate, the moment appears when these two initially separated ideas merge into a finely knit conclusion, when Jack narrates he saw Happy Chang’s facial expression after he attacked Carl for the sake of his daughter, “the proud and defiant smile of a man at peace with what he’d done and willing to accept the consequences.” Here, the thematic stake in the first paragraph of the story, about boldly proclaiming personal shamefulness is again recalled; Jack is ready to make a decision due to the event of seeing Happy Chang’s face in the plot. In an attempt to follow after Happy’s example, Jack resolves to truthfully claim his failure to watch the winner-determining play as the umpire, and finally accepts his shamefulness for all to see, but more importantly, for his family to see in hopes that his would see this inner change. From the setup of plot, characterization, inner conflict, and desire within the first couple of paragraphs, each of these aspects are complicated and revealed as the story progresses, and by the end of the story they come together that result in a very satisfying resolve in conflict and meaning.