Friday, September 15, 2017
Making Up Stories
Did you ever try to write fiction?
I've done a little fiction writing, but it was almost all decades ago, when I was a college student. I think I took a course in creative writing, because I have a couple of short stories from 1986 saved in a yellowing file folder that were obviously graded by a professor. But I have no memory of the class, or who the professor was. Sad!
When I was in eighth grade, I wrote a short story about a talking dog. The teacher liked it. I still have it. I will spare you any details because I can't quite bring myself to read it.
In high school, I entered a writing competition with two poems and a short story. As I recall, the story was an overwrought melodrama about a couple fighting in a hotel room in Istanbul. There was a lot of alcohol and screaming and breaking glass. What's funny about this is a) I had never been to Istanbul; b) I had never been in a serious relationship; and c) no one in my family drank much, so I had no experience with messy drunkenness.
So much for the age-old advice to "write what you know." I was just making stuff up. Still, I won the prize. I'm not sure anyone else entered.
Apparently I didn't save that story, because it's not in my yellowed folder. In college, though, I wrote a similar one with the lackluster title "A Night At Their House." It involves, unsurprisingly, a couple going to dinner at another couple's house. The men are business associates trying to work a deal, the women simply hangers-on. (So much for feminism.) The female host is a messy drunk who fails to provide any dinner at all and slings insults with abandon.
They walked up the long sidewalk to the front door and were just about to knock when, with a terrific cry of "Darling!" the door was flung open and a dark-haired middle-aged woman threw herself into Joe's arms, sloshing chablis from the glass she carried.
"Well, hello, Linda," said Joe, looking embarrassedly at his wife.
"Oh my God, did I spill something on you?" said Linda, pulling herself up on somewhat wobbly feet. Without waiting for an answer, she said adoringly, "Marilyn! How wonderful to see you again," and kissed her on the cheek. Marilyn smiled with great difficulty.
"Linda, how are you?"
"Well, I'm just fine!" She looked at Marilyn's clothes with red, disapproving eyes. "That is, until I saw your dress." And with that, she flounced into the darkened house.
It reads like an obvious rip-off of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" But the teacher gave it a B-plus. "I appreciate the scope and energy, and flashes of style and wit, and fairly good ear and good social eye," he wrote. "But, there are blurry spots in the chaos, and Linda steals the show. Intentional? Also, the epiphany is unconvincing."
I also wrote one about a foreign correspondent in Africa who escapes a bloody political coup. Amid fires and looting he sees someone decapitated with a pane of glass (is that even possible?) and finally scrambles aboard an outbound airplane with only his typewriter. Again, an obvious rip-off -- this time, of "The Year of Living Dangerously."
There's also another B-plus paper, a character sketch of Mabel, a bar owner who pulls a gun on a pair of rowdy customers: "This is my bar, and that's my drink, and you two'll be leavin' right now."
It's all fairly terrible and derivative.
I made a meager stab at writing some fiction after I got laid off from the New York Times Company in 2009. But I threw it all out. I discovered I am just not creative enough to make up a truly original story out of whole cloth and keep it going to a satisfactory resolution. I'm better at telling stories about things that really happened. That way, my material is provided for me -- and as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.
(Photo: Street art from Rainham, East London.)