A short story of mine

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Life from a Distance

Life from a Distance

© Sperry Hunt 2011

As with most men, Luther and I spent nearly an hour talking about half a dozen things that didn’t matter just to avoid the one thing that did.

It was a sunny morning last July. We sat in our rockers on the deck outside the Menagerie with our feet on the rails. The Menagerie was the rickety lodge he and I built on top of the White Cliffs. The grain silos, the schools and the houses of Beeville spilled out across the prairie a thousand feet below. The old drive-in movie screen listed toward the rim of the world where nearly every evening the sun sets into a pot of gold.

During the first half-hour of our conversation, we peeped around town through Luther’s telescope speculating on what we observed: Sam Black was late to work for the third day in a row. Coach Jacobs and Father Dupree drove out under the willow grove where the river bends. And, judging from the consistent vacancy in her driveway, Lucy Malloy hadn’t taken up with anyone a year after Roy ran off on her.

When Luther was too sore to put his eye to the telescope, he leaned back and spoke in short breaths for a while about the virtues of tying flies and coffee can stew. In the middle of his stew story, he turned away and said something I didn’t catch. When I asked him to repeat it, he wiped his eyes with the crook of his arm and turned toward a silver drape of rain sweeping across the highway to the east. “Back when this state was a territory, know what its motto was?” he said.

“Can’t say I do,” I said even though he’d often told me.

“I long to see what is beyond.”

“Is that so?”

“Yep, and that’s just the way I feel today.”

I squeezed his shoulder. The bones slid around like they were in one of those over-roasted chickens you sometimes get at the market.

Luther snatched up the shot glass of smoky, green juice he’d set beside himself earlier. He raised the glass once toward me and again toward the horizon before downing the contents.

A shiver of disgust roiled through him. Then he grabbed my hand, hauled himself to his feet and threw the jigger with all he had into a long arc. The glass sparkled past a wheeling hawk then tumbled down into the hay field waving like the ocean on Karl Schuster’s back forty.

Luther fell back into the rocker and winked at me.

“See you, Jake.”

I stared at him feeling that low-voltage, bilious sensation you get when your car spins on the ice.

“See you, Luther,” I said into his eyes.

He groaned once then slumped back against the slats peacefully, like he’d done a hundred times listening to a ball game.

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Names: What’s the big deal?

Name GraphicTo name someone or something in literature is to give it breath.  To write “The woman in the white suit” is one thing. To write “Emily Johnston, the woman in the white suit” is quite another. A woman is a part of the plot.   Emily is part of the story.  Both may have lines, but only Emily is likely to have a history, even if it’s a brief one.

The names themselves are often important.   A name is the first gift a person receives.  They are intentional labels that speak of the culture and the temperament and aspirations of the family.   Emily is tender.    Paul is strong.   Elizabeth is nobel.  Names evoke the spirit of another.  Nicknames are given to and usually accepted by people whose qualities are representative of their qualities – unless they are ironic, like a “Shorty” for a tall man.

For writers thought should be given before awards a name.   The named person plumps a story and adds complexity.   Emily has importance.   A character too richly drawn may turn the reader’s eye from the main story.  Too few characters can make the tale thinly drawn.  

Success comes down to the writer’s craft.   Hemingway did quite well with one character in “The Old Man and the Sea.”   Dickens and Tolstoy used dozens with clear success.    There is no right number.   Just remember, writers, that a character is a guest in your work who must be provided for and attended to.

Linearity in writing

Story writing is both linear and non-linear in nature.

The basic nature of a scenario is to relate things as they happen: A man steps on the twig. A dog barks. The man stops mid-stride.

How the story is laid out, however, need not be linear. Often it’s artfully not. My favorite example of this technique is Pulp Fiction. Early in the script we see Vincent Vega (played by John Travolta) as an accomodating fellow who has a romantic scene with Mia Wallace (Uma Therman), his boss’ girl. Later in the story we discover in a flashback that Vega is also a churlish and cold blooded killer. Had we known that in the beginning, the scene between him and Mia would have seemed creepy instead of romantic.

The nature of literary composition itself can be very completely non-linear. For, though the concept of a story may burst almost fully formed, the details will likely emerge in fits and starts triggered by events in the writers life seemingly disconnected from his/her work on the page.