Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Short... Short Story

I had a unique opportunity this week to attend a Fundamentals of Writing class held at work. For those of you who may not know, I am a civil service employee and I primarily do System Administration work. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw this gem advertised in my inbox. An opportunity to get paid to learn about an important hobby of mine? Sign me up!

I will admit, I do have a bit more experience writing than might be expected walking into a fundamentals course, but I tried to see it as a free writing seminar. I've never been to one, but I've always been interested in it. If even for just the networking opportunities alone, it would likely be quite beneficial. The same, I assumed, could be said for this class.

Monday brought about the first day of training and after an emotionally rough weekend in the wake of a particularly bad migraine, I wasn't sure I'd made the right choice. Our learning materials hadn't arrived in the post yet and things seemed to be a bit on the shaky side. Oh boy... the three days of bliss I had anticipated started to look like it was going to be a long, horrible experience.

I'm very happy to say that it turned out better than that first impression. I had many opportunities to work with people I hadn't ever been able to take the time to meet before. There were very strong, passionate personalities as well as softer ones with just as much to say if only you took the time to listen. It was an amazing contrast and I learned a lot about the way other people write and how they put ideas together. This in itself helped me work through some of my own writing woes.

Even though the class focus was on professional writing and the expectations of our agency on how we should be writing official documents, we did have an opportunity to free-write. I'd like to share with you the finished version of a very short short story I wrote and edited this morning. I don't have a title for it yet, I guess since I started out not really knowing where it would end I didn't put much thought into it at the time. Let me know what you think in the comments below.


When I sit around the campfire and watch my children exploring the woods, I think back to my own adventures in childhood. Next to me, my wife sits in silence, but I know her mind gravitates to the dirty dishes or the particulars of preparing for the next meal. Sometimes I'm wrong and she's fretting over whether I'm having a good time.

"You look angry," she'll say.

But I'm not. Sure, somewhere down inside I have a reserve of anger and bitterness, as most people do. Yet I realize that it's important not to dwell on such things, and I try to give my children more than I was given.

My father wouldn't have been staring into a fire before dusk, contemplating, as I am now. He'd be on edge, periodically barking orders at my brother and I to look tough in front of his work buddies. He'd brag he only had children for the free labor and the tax deductions.

"Hey, kids!" I shout to the trees.

Minutes later my eleven, nine, and four year-olds emerge. Our youngest, just now one, is asleep in the tent.

"Yes?" They ask in unison.

"I love you," I say, smiling with purpose.

"We love you too, Dad," they chime.

I smile at my wife as they disappear to their explorations. She smiles back at me and snuggles closer.

© 2011 Brady Frost


Jim Murdoch said...

It’s not so much a story, Brady, as a scene, a slice of life, and although I’m a big fan of that kind of story and don’t require a punch line or a moral there does, to my mind, need to be a feeling that you’ve chanced upon a significant moment. Now, this moment may well have been significant to you (and worthy of memorialising like this even) and so, in that respect, it works if that was your intention but if you’re presenting it to the world who can only take the words on face value it will only work if they can bring enough to the table to complete the piece to their satisfaction. Bear in mind what Samuel Johnson wrote: 'A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.' I personally found this twee. Nothing in my childhood helps me relate to this piece – this isn’t how families behave. For my tastes this is also too short. It’s 226 words long, a piece of flash, and with flash that length you can’t afford to waste a word. Yes, I get the point that you’re not your dad but there needs to be more here I think.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment, Jim. I found your opinion of the piece quite interesting, especially since we discussed who our target audience would be and who may not appreciate it.

I can see what you mean about the idea that it says "I am not my father." However, that was a very small part of what I was writing. Again, a lot of it goes back to the reader, as you said, and their own experiences.

This story, to me, says two primary things:
* Our assumptions about what other people are thinking or feeling aren't always as spot on as we may believe.
* Simple gestures can have lasting impact.

The audience for this story, which is probably more anecdote than simple flash, would be the touchy-feely types and those who are interested in knowing more about me as a person. This piece says far more about me than most that I have written.

Also, this piece was a very big learning step for me. I thought it was fine when I wrote it. (Read: first draft syndrome) When we were tasked with editing what we'd written I instantly felt like I was shutting down to the idea of changing a thing. Still, I was determined to at least try and ended up 17 words shorter without losing any impact.

It should be noted that my partner, Sue, cried a bit after reading it. So, yes, the story is probably much more powerful to individuals who feel they can relate in some way.

Again, Jim, thank you for your comment. I respect you as both a writer and a fellow blogger and it makes me happy that you took the time to let me know what you think.