The Ugly Stage

When painting a portrait…you soon arrive at THE UGLY STAGE!  That is when your mettle as an artist is tested.  You don’t see how you can possibly convert this ugly piece into a thing of beauty.  This is the time–you’ve been working on this for awhile already–when you want to walk away and abandon the piece.  It’s hard to imagine something
“pretty” coming out of this.

That said, experience has taught you that this is only a stage.  Stay with it.  Don’t give up too soon.  So you go forward in conversation with the piece to see what’s next. Then, what follows that?  You step back and then forward and bring this being forth to become who she is determined to be.

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Sometimes, often or always, there is a message in a painting.  The artist may have a clue  before she begins painting.  Then again,  it could emerge during her process with a piece.  Blending words with art is often an intriguing way of stating the message.  The word that sits in the lower right corner of the piece is “STORY.”  Like each one of us, the subject of this painting has a story to tell.  While we may not have a sense of her exact story, we get the idea that she has a depth of experience.  Those eyes convey something.  The mouth, neither smiling nor smirking, shows determination.  There is character in her chin…and so on.

If she were the heroine of your short story, who would she be?  That’s the thing about art, each person views a piece and then their imagination begins to conjecture a story.  We do that when we meet someone new also.  “Who are you?”  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  Then our judgments and old information come in and create a story before we even really know who we’ve actually met.  Interesting that we do this.  Make up stories all of the time.

The Point of Inspiration–The Closing

How do you bring a short story to a satisfying conclusion.  A short story is by one definition “a slice of life.”  The audience enters at a certain point and exits at another point and we assume the story continues beyond our point of exit.  Yet the reader looks for an ending to this exposition, this portion of the larger ongoing story.

The Point of Inspiration (Part 3 of 3)
© by Christine O’Brien

Fifteen years later, she was a hazy memory.  He once thought he loved her but was now convinced that he only wanted to express himself creatively.  She afforded him this avenue.  Decorating cakes for special occasions became his secret obsession.  By August of that summer, he had invested in a cake decorator’s starter kit.  He bought cake circles and boards, a turntable, one plain and one patterned side scraper, an acrylic board (recommended) and a rolling pin.  And, of course, a set of crimpers, a cake smoother, brushes, parchment paper triangles, a flower nail.  Every hue of icing colors, piping gel, spatulas, stencils and the icing tubes and tips.  He practiced piping congratulatory words, fluting flowers and leaves, scrolls, ripples.  He bought instructional DVDs from cake decorating sororities the world over.  He sketched the spires of Bryce Canyon (where he’d first met her) on large sheet cakes when he could think of a valid reason to do so.  He did return to his job as a firefighter.  You’d never catch him with frosting on his turnout coat.

Writing Prompt:
I invite you to write about a secret revelation.  How do you build a story?  One that creates a bit of suspense and then the surprise conclusion when you reveal what was hidden?

 

The Point of Inspiration–Story Development

There are many ways to propel a story forward.  The physical action of the characters creates movement.  Dialogue creates revelation…who are these people…let them tell you through their words and actions.  And, descriptive narrative assists the forward motion of the story.  Image detail engages the senses.

The Point of Inspiration (Part 2 of 3)
© by Christine O’Brien

She trolled her blue Volvo along the main road, pulling off at the various lookout points.

“That’s Thor’s Hammer,” she said pointing to a top-heavy stone protrusion.

“The thunder god,” he offered to show her that he had a degree of mythological literacy.

They continued on to Bryce Point and the delicate Wall of Windows.  She took him down a trail or two, asking occasionally how he was doing.  Did he need water or want to rest.

When the sun was near setting, she asked him where he was staying.

“Don’t know yet,” he answered truthfully.

There and then she said “I’m going to bake you a cake.”

They returned to her suite at the lodge.

“I work here from April through October,” she told him in explanation.

“As what, a tour guide?”

“No, I’m the head pastry chef.  I actually have a staff that bakes the cakes.  I decorate them according to the occasion and my inspiration.  You might say that I take cake decorating to a new level.  People come here to get married, celebrate an anniversary, birthday, all of those special human occasions.  And a few odd ones like this older couple who ordered a cake to celebrate their newly acquired false teeth!”

He was definitely drawn to this brawny woman with a flair for cake decorating.  He was surprised to hear himself ask, “Can I watch?”

He lingered at the lodge, sharing her room through spring and into summer.  He told her he was on a medical leave from his job for a few months.

“What job,” she asked.

“Firefighter,” he said gruffly.

“A job with a lot of risk,” she said admirably.

By the end of July, she told him that their fling was sweet and that it was over.

“Time to move on,” she said.

To irk her, he added “to greener pastures.”

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Do you know these characters a little better?  Can you see how the story is being developed?  Can you guess what the secret revelation is?  Post what you think under comments!

The Point of Inspiration…the Opening

How do you begin a short story?  It helps to have a good idea, one that has sparked your own curiosity and imagination.

Sometimes, as in this case, it can start with a class assignment.  Several years ago, a writing instructor offered this prompt…Write about a secret revelation.  Does that get your imagination going?  It did for me.

At the time, I had become fascinated by the spires of Bryce Canyon (having come across a photo of them in a magazine).  That seemed like a good opening, a starting place.  And, perhaps, a good way to capture my reader’s attention.

The Point of Inspiration (in 3 parts)
© by Christine O’Brien

     She was either to blame or to be credited for his secret passion.  It was certainly a fate of sorts, meeting her below the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

Pointing upwards and to the east, she handed him her binoculars, saying “That’s Inspiration Point.”

And then, in a quick breath almost inaudible, “Do I inspire you?”

“What did you say?” he asked shaking his head as if he had water in his ears.

Swiftly, she changed the subject “Have you been here before?”

“Never,” he answered.

“How about I be your tour guide for the day?  I know these spires like, like…”

“…the back of your hand,” he offered.

“I was looking for an original metaphor,” she said.  “I hate cliches.”

“Cliche or otherwise, I’m all yours,” he said, noting her muscled calves and tall sturdy frame, a spire herself he found himself momentarily thinking in metaphors.

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Does this opening make you curious to know more?  About the characters?  About where this story is going?  How is it going to lead to a secret revelation?  If it has caught your interest, then, it’s done what was intended.  It has hooked you as the reader.

 

 

Vague Indulgences–Fictionalizing

Taking a subject that you know and translating it into fiction is both a challenge and doable.  You contain the research that is integrated into the story.  The narrative is not intended to be a memoir though it contains elements of your personal experience.

Following is a short story I wrote several years ago while working with my itinerant creative writing instructor.  I’ve taken some elements of being brought up in the Catholic religion and this became the thread that wove the story together.   The characters, place and circumstances are fiction.

Vague Indulgences
© by Christine O’Brien

Clara’s fingers fidgeted behind her back while her friend, Barb, scoped the café for single men.  Dressed in black from scarf to boot, Clara asked the counter person, “Which is better, the pumpkin pie or the chocolate mint bars?”

“I prefer the chocolate mint bars.”

“Alright then let’s go with one chocolate mint bar” she said as her righteous hands settled decisively on her broad hips.

Forget the damn diet she thought.  Indulge is the word of the day, the week, oh well, the month, Clara succumbed.  She recalled the partial and plenary indulgences of a Catholic grammar school upbringing.  Having once again kicked your brother in the shins, showing sincere contrition, you were given a penance.  “One Our Father and three Hail Mary’s,” the priest prescribed.  Although the sin was forgiven, time in purgatory loomed after you died.  If you did something above and beyond the ordinary, you could shorten the time you were waylaid in this half-way house.  Partial indulgences were granted for small acts of kindness like helping an old man across the street. And then there was total removal of temporal punishment through a plenary indulgence which could only be granted by the Pope.  Clara had a sudden image of those black-coated Italian women, their faded faces draped in lacy mantillas.  The black rosary beads slid rapidly through their parchment fingers. They probably stacked up heaps of indulgences for themselves and their crazy families, Clara ruminated.

The locket of Our Lady of Perpetual Help swung forward as she leaned over, staring down into the glass-topped dessert counter.  The locket contained a relic from some long-dead pope.  Clara wouldn’t call herself religious, perhaps superstitious.  “It can’t hurt to wear it,” she often told Barb who teased her about the locket.

“I’ll take that one,” she said, pointing to the smaller of the two chocolate mint bars.

Barb leaned in closer, pointing, “Get that one.  It’s bigger.  Then I can have a bite.”

Clara frowned, then said “Get your own.  I don’t feel like sharing.”

“Be that way, selfish bitch,” Barb snipped.

“Was that really necessary?  Can’t you for once just let me say ‘no’ without making me feel guilty about it?”  Her efforts at converting Barb to at least one act of daily kindness always seemed to fall short.  Clara was committed to the task though.  She shrugged her plump shoulders and said “Forget it.  Let’s sit outside.”

Clara remembered the sage advice from her mother when asked how she handled anger. “Anger is a waste of energy.  I can’t be bothered with that.”  In her slender days, Clara used to lose her temper at the drop of a hat. It seemed that there was always something to be angry about and she leapt for the bait.  Then, in an epiphany of sorts, she got it. Anger was a man’s emotion. It was neither pretty nor acceptable in a woman.  Clara learned to shrug it off…or better yet, stuff it with something gooey and sweet.

Clara’s mom was five feet tall. She weighed over 200 pounds at last weigh-in. When Clara was 15-years old, her father began to sneak into Clara’s bed at night. She wasn’t sure if she should feel proud or pestered. Her mother went into a baking frenzy in those days.

Clara turned back to the counter, “Would you please wrap that piece of pumpkin pie to go? For later.”

Writing Prompt:
In this short story, 572 words, so much is conveyed using the vehicle of something intimately known by the author–a Catholic upbringing.

Within your past experience, find something around which you can build a story.  Do you have a character or two in mind to facilitate the telling?  A setting?  A circumstance?  Give it a try.  Write it, then go back to edit, cultivate, refine, finalize.  Spend time with it.