Setting

Here’s my first attempt at a directed writing “assignment”. I put that in quotes because of course there is no true assignment here, but rather an attempt to use some of the writing assignments we used in our creative writing class to develop material for use in my short story. So this is targeted towards the setting, which is the house of the old man’s daughter and her husband, also the home of the dog.

 

A house in the suburbs. The house is a split-level, with the living room, dining room, and kitchen on one level, the family room and a bathroom half a level lower, the bedrooms and main bathroom half a level higher, a partially finished basement yet another half level lower, and a small rear entrance area on a level of its own – about a quarter level below the kitchen. The house is on a corner lot, so the front yard is quite small but the back yard is a large wedge of land. The front yard is grass-covered by a crusty layer of snow about four inches thick, but uneven. There is a single evergreen tree, about eight feet tall but with a crooked trunk that leans it back somewhat, towards the house. The house faces north-west. On the south side of the house is a long paved driveway running from the street to a double-car garage behind and to the south of the house. The driveway has been cleared of snow, but piles of dirty snow sit in hard curbs along the length of the driveway and to either side of the garage door.

 

Inside, the house is warm. Most rooms are carpeted in an older multi-hued brown shag. The exceptions are the kitchen, the back entrance, and the two bathrooms, which all have yellow-brown linoleum flooring, and the basement, which is bare blue-grey concrete. The walls are painted in various shades of off-white, as though they were all once the same off-white colour, but time and repainting has made them all subtly different. There isn’t a lot of art. Only a single oil painting hangs in the living room over a long green polyester-covered sofa. The painting is of a mountain at either sunset or sunrise from the angle of the light. Possibly the mountain in the painting is far enough north or south that the light is always at a steep angle, in which case the painting could be of the mountain at almost any time. The other furniture in the living room is a reclining arm-chair upholstered in light brown polyester, and a glass and wrought iron coffee table with a handful of magazines and a small empty glass serving dish on it. The dining room is crowded with furniture: there is an over-large dining table in heavy, dark wood. The table has thick, carved legs that curve outwards from under the table top before curving back inwards before they end with leafy carvings at their bases. Against the wall at the head of the table, farthest from the living room, there is a hutch of the same dark wood. The hutch is open, displaying a large collection of silverware and china.

 

Not bad for a start.

 

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The Old Man’s Reverie

Something that’s kind of kicking my ass about this damn story is the old man’s reverie. Let me throw down a current outline and then get into this a bit more.

Part 1 – the scene: 500 words on the house at Thanksgiving

Part 2 – the old man and the dog: another 500 words or so meditating on the old man, the dog beside him, and the old man’s imminent death

Part 3 – the old man’s reverie: 1,000 words or so letting us slip back into the old man’s memory of an event from his past, something allowing us to see the tragic nature of his character – the story-within-a-story is one of loss and regret and possibly self-defeat

Part 4 – the dog’s reverie: 500 words (possibly less) letting us see the dog’s memory of an event of loss, likely the death of his brother; the juxtaposition is that the old man’s memories are of loss and regret – the dog’s memories are of loss without regret

Part 5 – the end: 500 words or so more tying things up: the old man is driven home after some mild arguing about who should take him, he arrives at his retirement home, he looks at the doctor’s letter on his coffee table, story ends

 

Alright. Now, I’ve gone on at some length about the troubles I’m having with POV changes within the story – Dog’s, Man’s, Dog’s, Man’s, like that. You know, at least there’s some god-damned symmatry there. But more to the point I’m currently struggling with the old man’s reverie. What the hell does he think about for 1,000 words that shows us he’s a tragic train wreck of a human existence?

 

 Here’s a thought. Maybe I’ll start developing characters and the scene itself. Along the lines of the writing exercises Joel had us doing – just spilling out all sorts of material related to the people, the dog, what everyones’ appearances, personalities, histories are… everything. I’m hopeful that through that the old man’s backstory will come to life enough that I can reveal something about him. Next blog – characters. Or setting. I’m not sure which. Maybe both.

 

Point of View

I’ve been thinking about this story about the dog and the old man with cancer. I’ve outlined it briefly a few times, and the sticking point to me is the damn point of view. Let me run through an outline and see if I can identify where point of view becomes problematic.

 

A household at Thanksgiving. We’re seeing things through the eyes of the family dog. There are several people present – an old man on the living room couch, alone except for the dog sitting beside him, three adults at the dining room table, one is his son, another is his daughter, the third is his son’s wife. His daughter’s husband is also present; he’s in the kitchen doing dishes. There are also three children present, all in the living room playing a video game on the television. Dinner is over and people are relaxing. The adults are all conversing about various topics. The daughter’s husband is separated from the conversation by being in the kitchen, but is still engaged and participating. The old man is separated by being in the living room, but he is not part of the conversation. The dog can smell the old man’s colon cancer. No one else seems to know about it. It is remarked upon that the dog is spending the evening sitting with grandpa, but to the dog this is natural because it is good to spend time with people who will soon be dead. The old man slips into a reverie. The point of view switches to the old man so we can see his narrative from his eyes. His story is one of loss and regret. The immediate story is taking place at Thanksgiving in the year 2000, so his reverie is of a time prior to that. The old man has been divorced since 1970. His son is 41 and his daughter is 38. He is 69. When the old man’s reverie concludes, we return to the Thanksgiving setting and the dog’s point of view. The dog has a reverie of his own, thinking of his brother now dead and how he has no regrets about it. The juxtaposition is that the old man has a life of loss and regret while the dog has a life of loss without regret. The gathering concludes and the old man is to be driven back to his retirement home. There is a mild argument about who has to drive him home, quickly resolved. The dog watches him leave. At the old man’s retirement home, he says good-bye to his son and goes to his apartment. It’s dark and small. He picks up a letter from his kitchen table and considers whether he should tell anyone he has cancer.

 

So obviously I need to figure out what the old man’s reverie is. Now that I’ve outlined it again, it doesn’t seem insurmountable. But still… I don’t know. We’re in the dog’s point of view… then we switch to the old man for his reverie… then we come out of that into the dog’s view again… the we end with the old man. The problem I see here is with the old man’s reverie. How do I show the regret he feels? Let’s say his story is about something prior to his divorce. Then I would need to show regret in the present, since it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for him to regret his actions before his divorce. So the story takes place after his divorce when he’s experiencing regret… ahhhhh! I’m not liking this. In fact, I think I should start by writing the old man’s reverie, and if I can’t make it work then fuck this story. What troubles me is that I could write a story from the old man’s life and allude to his regret back in the present, but I can’t because we’re in the dog’s point of view back in the present. So that’s the thing – either I can build the sense of regret into the past story, or else I have to stick with the old man’s point of view after his reverie ends.

 

more… thought… required…