Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Then and now: a comparative look at my writing over the years

For my next creative writing assignment, my classmates and I will be writing longer short stories--upwards of 15 pages, double-spaced (approx 3,500-4,000 words). Mine is due next Wednesday. Disappointed in my inexplicable lack of ideas over the past few weeks, I started to sift through some old work I'd posted years ago on my now mostly inactive deviantART account. There, I found an unfinished introduction of a piece I'd written from January 2009 called "It Goes Both Ways" and fell in love with it all over again. But as I read it, I wanted to make changes to it--and I wanted to finish it.

In rewriting the introduction, I am noticing that my style has changed quite a bit in the nearly four years that have passed. My sentences in general have become more concise (what I said in 500 words before is now condensed to half that) and I do feel like I have a firmer grasp on what it means to be a creative writer.

But I'd like to hear other opinions. Below are both versions of the introduction. If you'd like to help me out, here are some questions to think about while you're reading: Which one is more engaging, and why? Which one has more believable dialogue and character voice? Is the newer version too simplistic? Are you more sympathetic toward the narrator in one version over another? Any and all comments are encouraged--even if you prefer the original version! Honesty is the best policy, and believe me when I tell you I have a thick skin; I can take your critiques, and I welcome them. It's the only way I'll improve. Thanks for reading!


Original version, dated January 23, 2009:

"Your mother is dead." I could hear him breathing on the other end of the phone like he'd run all the way across Manhattan just to tell me. He hadn't. It happened four days ago. I'd read about it in the newspaper long before my family saw fit to tell me.

"Why did you call me this morning?" I said, chipping at the plum polish on my nail.

"Your mother is dead," he repeated. Each word was pronounced with more space between than was necessary, as if I couldn't understand it otherwise. Though it was admittedly better than having to put up with his screaming.

"I know."

There was a pause. He was piecing something together, like the puzzles he used to assemble when I was young. He would scatter the pieces on the cleared dining room table according to size, shape and color, slowly working his way from the outside, in. I stole one of the center pieces once, knowing with pleasure that his puzzle would never be complete without it.

"The funeral is tomorrow at seven."

"In the morning?"

"Shut your fucking mouth!" Sure as a gun, the screaming. His voice rose though just as quickly shrunk back, and he took to hissing through his teeth like the stray cat I nearly ran over last summer with my car. He still hasn't forgiven me for it, even though I feed him every day as my penance. I pulled the phone away from my ear to dull the noise, confused as to why he would be so upset over such a reasonable question. "You just…" he continued. His voice trailed off and he sighed. "72 East 1st Street. She would have wanted you to come." The last sentence was muffled and rushed and I still don't know if he actually said it but I would like to believe so. Every time I replay it in my mind, the more I'm convinced it's what he said.

The frantic tone in his voice meant that he was scrambling to hang up the phone. "Hey, dad." I didn't even know what I was going to say, but I didn't want him to hang up just yet. "Hey dad," I repeated.


"Trevor died. Two months ago."

More heavy breathing on his side of the line. I was starting to wonder if it was interference from his cell phone rather than his breathing. Or maybe he took up smoking again.

The receiver clicked and the sound of static silence rippled from the earpiece. I hung the phone up and wiped my fingers on my pants, still unsure if the funeral was in the morning or the evening. Seven o'clock is uncommitted. It goes both ways.


Re-write, dated October 9, 2012:

“Your mother is dead.” His accusatory tone strikes a nerve.

I clench my teeth. “Why’d you try to get a hold of me this morning?” I say, ignoring him. “My landlady wasn’t exactly thrilled to pass along your message.” I cradle the pay phone between my shoulder and ear so I can pick at my cuticles.

“Your mother is dead,” he repeats, following each word with a condescending pause like I’m too stupid to understand him otherwise.

“I know. Four days ago, right?” He doesn’t confirm or deny it. A small part of me hopes his silence is a manifestation of shame in knowing I’m well aware of how long he waited before contacting me. “When’s the funeral?” I ask.

“Tomorrow at ten sharp,” he says, like he’s setting up a goddamn business meeting.

“On a Tuesday?”

“Don’t you fucking start with me!” he shouts. I flinch and pull the receiver away from my ear; sure as a gun, the screaming. “I’m not dealing with this shit. Not today. For Christ’s sake, not today," he says, his voice shrinking into a sigh. I imagine him shaking his head with a hand resting on his forehead, forever in a state of disappointment. "Moravian Cemetery,” he continues. The reception starts to break up. “She would have wanted her son to come.”

Before I allow him the chance to hang up, I say, “Dad?”

Hesitation. “What?”

Without thinking, I say, “Simon’s dead too. Five months ago.” Shit.

The receiver clicks and static silence ripples into the earpiece. I hang the phone up and wipe my damp fingers on my pants. My hands are shaking.

5 lived to tell about it:

Sara Bell said... Reply

Aw Michelle, I've missed you! You old NaNoWriMo writing buddy!
I really like the first one too, but I definitely like the second version much better. It's a lot stronger to me. It definitely makes me curious and want to read on. Who is Simon? Why did his father wait four days to talk to him? Why is he not more upset about his mother's death? Hmmmmm

King of the Eyesores said... Reply

@Sara Bell

SARA! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I went ahead and added you to my Google Reader, so hopefully I'll be seeing updates from you.

Thank you very much for your comments. I will be posting the final draft of the story in the next week or so, so hopefully all of those questions will be answered then. I really appreciate your time and feedback. <3

How have you been? It's been such a long time; we really need to catch up properly one of these days!

Sara Bell said... Reply

You're in my Bloglovin' feed so I can always keep up with you too. =]
Yay, can't wait to see it! I am always interested in reading, but you probably already knew that.
I've been great! Just traveling and writing, and now we're expecting so getting ready to finish up traveling and settle down. It's been a very exciting summer for me! How about you, what all have you been up to?

King of the Eyesores said... Reply

Congratulations, Sara! I saw on your FB mention of something that seemed pregancy-esque but I wasn't entirely sure. How far along are you? That's fantastic that you got a bunch of traveling in; I'm super jealous!

When I get some time this weekend, I'll make sure to check out the most recent posts in your blog and leaves some comments if I can. It's nice to be able to connect with old friends via writing. :)

Sara Bell said... Reply

Sorry, I'm not very good at checking back in a timely manner apparently!
I am still pretty early in, only 11 weeks. Due May 1st. =]
Yes, we have had such a fun time this summer! I will always still travel, just not as much now of course. I agree, it's so nice to be able to connect! The joys of the Internet!

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