Purpose.

Using this famous and well-loved story ending as a template, with your own imagination, create a scene that provides different meaning for story, and still maintains interest and the suspense for the reader to read on.  (You’ll be delivering a new story purpose and meaning in scene, with almost no narrative description, and heavily dependent on dialog.)

This assignment is designed to stimulate imagination and exercise writing skills that will improve your process of revision while exploring reasons why O’Connor was successful.  Her success has never really been agreed upon by critics.  The challenge, as an exercise, is to determine what purpose for the story and the scene (using O’Connor’s basic plot and story structure) you as the writer would use and how you would present with clarity and impact for the reader.  Not at all easy, but very valuable to develop your talents.

A critique presented by O’Connor is included in the assignment.  For many, O’Connor’s thoughts seem opaque about her purpose for the ending and her choices, particularly use of extreme violence, in her story structure and delivery.  Here is an opportunity for you to clarify meaning using your own style and character creations.

O’Connor uses weighted religious overtones, and emphasizes the importance of a gesture to possibly induce change in the killer.  If a change in the killer is the purpose of the story, or even enlightenment in the victim of who she is and what she’s done, or both, how can you reconstruct scene and characters to make either one, or both of these purposes clear, and your own?

What to do.

1.  Read the story.  And the critiques.

2.  Read O’Connor’s critique (below as endnote).

3.  Read the ending to be rewritten (below).

4.  Determine your purpose for story, then create your own characters and develop them so they contribute to the new scene.  Know how your characters acted before the start of this final scene.  Your story may be very different from O’Connor’s.

5.  Rewrite the ending.  Be wildly creative; change as much as you want.  The only thing to retain is the killer’s murdering the family, the victim’s actions and pleas for her life, and the delivery of some meaning to the reader.  Use as many or few secondary characters as you need, but keep the focused interaction between killer and victim.  Use creative POVs if needed.

6.  Submit your work if you would like comments.

The ending to be rewritten.  (From: http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~surette/goodman.html)

Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby Lee was dragging a yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it.

“Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn’t name what the shirt reminded her of. “No, lady,” The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, “I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it.”

The children’s mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she couldn’t get her breath. “Lady,” he asked, “would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby Lee and Hiram and join your husband?”

“Yes, thank you,” the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. “Hep that lady up, Hiram,” The Misfit said as she struggled to climb out of the ditch, “and Bobby Lee, you hold onto that little girl’s hand.”

“I don’t want to hold hands with him,” June Star said. “He reminds me of a pig.”

The fat boy blushed and laughed and caught her by the arm and pulled her off into the woods after Hiram and her mother.

Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, “Jesus. Jesus,” meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.

“Yes’m, The Misfit said as if he agreed. “Jesus shown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course,” he said, “they never shown me my papers. That’s why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you’ll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you’ll have something to prove you ain’t been treated right. I call myself The Misfit,” he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. “Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?”

“Jesus!” the old lady cried. “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!”

“Lady,” The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, “there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip.”

There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called, “Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!” as if her heart would break.

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.

“Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her.

“I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t,” The Misfit said. “I wisht I had of been there,” he said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady,” he said in a high voice, “if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant. She saw the man’s face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children !” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to clean them.

Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.

Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking. “Take her off and thow her where you thown the others,” he said, picking up the cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.

“She was a talker, wasn’t she?” Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.

“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

“Some fun!” Bobby Lee said.

“Shut up, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”

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Flannery O’Connor    (essay date 1963)

[O’Connor delivered  the following  remarks at a reading she gave at Hollins College, Virginia on14 October 1963.  In introducing her “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” O’Connor touches upon the function of violence and the grotesque in her fiction, especially in relation to the characters of the Grandmother and the Misfit in the story.]

     Much of my fiction takes its character from a reasonable use of the unreasonable, though the reasonableness of my  use of it may not always be apparent.  The assumptions that underlie this use of it, however, are those of the central Christian mysteries.  These are assumptions to which a large part of the modern audience takes exception.  About this I can only say that there are perhaps other ways than my own in which [“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”] could be read, but none other by which it could have been written.  Belief, in my own case anyway, is the engine that makes perception operate.
The heroine of this story, the Grandmother, is in the most significant position life offers the Christian.  She is facing death.  And to all appearances she, like the rest of us, is not too well prepared for it.  She would like to see the event postponed.
Indefinitely.
I’ve talked to a number of teachers who use this story in class and who tell their students that the Grandmother is evil, that in fact, she’s a witch, even down to the cat.  One of these teachers told me that his students and particularly his Southern students, resisted this interpretation with a certain bemused vigor, and he didn’t understand why.  I had to tell him that they resisted it because they all had grandmothers or great-aunts just like her at home, and they knew, from personal experience, that the old lady lacked comprehension, but that she had a good heart.  The Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence, and he knows that a taste for self-preservation can be readily combined with the missionary spirit.
This same teacher was telling his students that morally the misfit was several cuts about the Grandmother.  He had a really sentimental attachment to the Misfit.  But then a prophet gone wrong is almost always more interesting than your grandmother,  and you have to let people take their pleasures where they find them.
It is true that the old lady is a hypocritical old soul; her wits are no match for the Misfit’s, nor is her capacity for grace equal to his; yet I think the unprejudiced reader will feel that the Grandmother has a special kind of triumph in this story which instinctively we do not allow to someone altogether bad.
I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies.  This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both the world and eternity.  The action or gesture I’m talking about would have to be on the anagogical level, that is, the level which has to do with the Divine life and our participation in it.  It would be a gesture that transcended any neat allegory that might have been intended or any pat moral categories a reader could make.  It would be a gesture which somehow made contact with mystery.
There is a point in this story where such a gesture occurs.  The Grandmother is at last alone, facing the Misfit.  Her head clears for an instant and she realizes. even in her limited way, that she is responsible for the man before her and joined to him by ties of kinship which have their roots deep in the mystery she has been merely prattling about so far.  And at this point, she does the right thing, she makes the right gesture.
I find that students are often puzzled by what she says and does here, but I think myself that if I took out this gesture and what she says with it, I would have no story.  What was left would not be worth your attention.  Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violence which precede and follow them.  The devil’s greatest wile, Baudelaire has said, is to convince us that he does not exist.
I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.  Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work.  This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considered cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.
I don’t want to equate the Misfit with the devil, I prefer to think that, however unlikely this may seem, the old lady’s gesture, like the mustard-seed, will grow to be a great crow-filled tree in the Misfits’ heart, and will be enough of a pain to him there to turn him into the prophet he was meant to become.  But that’s another story.
This story has been called grotesque, but I prefer to call it literal.  A good story is literal in the same sense that a child’s drawing is literal.  When a child draws, he doesn’t intend to distort but to set down exactly what he sees, and as his gaze is direct, he sees the lines that create motion.  Now the lines of motion that interest the writer are usually invisible.  They are lines of spiritual motion.  And in this story you should be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmother’s soul, and not for the dead bodies.
We hear many complaints about the prevalence of violence in modern fiction, and it is always assumed that this violence is bad thing and meant to be an end in itself.  With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself.  It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially, and I believe these are times when writers are more interested in what we are essentially than in the tenor of our daily lives.  Violence is a force which can be used for good or evil, and among other things taken by it is the kingdom of heaven.  But regardless of what can be taken by it, the man in the violent situation reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him; and since the characters in this story are all on the verge of eternity, it is appropriate to think of what they take with them.  In any case, I hope that if you consider these points in connection with the story, you will come to see it as something more than an account of a family murdered on the way to Florida.

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    Flannery O’Connor, “On Her Own Work,” in her Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, edited by Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969, pp. 107-18.

Internet link http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/lewiss/Oconnor.htm

 


   Work submissions for Assignment 5: Rewriting a famous story ending.

Janine found Max in a pavilion filled with beer kegs and crusty fathers. He was sitting on a stool, hunched over a plastic cup and gazing into the mid-distance.

“Max.” She touched his shoulder and he turned around, looking at her like she was a stranger. He took a final swig from the cup and followed her out of the pavilion.

Outside, the children ran towards them.

“That was so much fun!” said Amina. “A boy fell and everyone started bouncing on him. He couldn’t get out of it. Then his mom came and pulled him out of the jumping castle.”

“That’s nice, dear,” said Janine. She looked at Max, they’d planned to make it to the motel by dusk but there was no way they could leave now. “How about a ride on the Ferris wheel?” she said to Amina and Daniel. The squealed with delight. Janine handed them $5 each.

“Be careful,” she called, as they ran away without saying thank you.

Max rocked and Janine linked her arm through his. “Let’s take a nap in the car.”

Max hadn’t wanted to pay for parking, so they had left the car behind a thicket several minutes walk from the main lot. Max was silent until they were close enough to see the bumper protruding from the bush. Janine stepped off the gravel road and onto a path worn into the grass. Max stumbled after her, detaching his arm from hers and smacking her behind with a fat hand. When she made no response, he tugged around the middle with both arms. She pushed out of his grasp only to get yanked firmly by the wrist. They stood by the car.

“Max, can you please sleep it off? We’ve really got to get going.”

He ignored her, pressing her against the vehicle with his hips and pushing her breasts up with both hands. She tried to squirm away from him but he buried his beard into her neck, grazing her skin with his teeth.

“Max, stop.”

It happened like lightning. Max raised the back of his hand and smacked her hard in the cheek. She slammed a knee into his crotch and bolted to the trunk of the car. It popped open and she reached for one of the hunting rifles she’d begged him not to bring. Just as he was staggering around the side of the car, she pointed the gun at him.

He stopped, and raised both hands in surrender.

The rifle rattled with Janine’s tremors.

“Get away from me,” she screamed. Loud sobs racked her unstable body.

“Janine, baby, what are you doing?” Max stood straight and sober. “This isn’t funny.”

“I know it’s not fucking funny, you bastard. Get back!”

He hushed her. “You don’t know how to use that thing. It could go off for real. Give me the gun –”

“Get the fuck away from me.” She lurched forward and Max flinched. “Stand against that tree. Hands behind your back.”

Max moved without delay, face against the tree, arms up in the air. She followed him and pushed the barrel into his spine.

“I should fucking kill you, you son of a bitch.”

Max’s chest heaved. Then he started to cry.

“Baby, we’ve been married for 10 years. I know I drink too much, but I love you. I’m a good father. I haven’t missed a day at work and I provide for you.”

Janine had always believed it, that was why she never divorced. Marriage was sacrosanct, and she had faith in God’s power to guide her husband when he strayed.

“Baby,” Max said, his voice high and scared. “You know I love you. I’ll quit drinking. I swear I won’t touch another drop. And I won’t touch you again.”

The two of them stood sobbing, until Max quietened and Janine wiped her soaking eyes. She sniveled.

“I’m going to turn around now,” Max said. Janine lowered the gun and he took it from her gently, then as she reached her arms around his middle, wanting only to shrink into his chest, he raised the butt of the rifle and smacked her head. Janine fell to the ground. Above her, she heard the trigger click – the cartridge was empty.

“Fuck.”

Janine leapt to her feet and ran for the boot of the car, Max’s drunken reflexes leaving him several paces back. She grabbed the remaining rifle, spun to find a flushed and baffled Max advancing towards her, and shot.

He staggered and swayed, finally falling to ground, blood oozing from his middle in a low fountain.

Janine lowered the rifle, panting. A gust of wind blew a tumble weed over Max’s contorted figure. In the distance, she could hear the screams of delighted children and a clashing of music from the carousel, the cheap megaphones at the gates and the Ferris wheel. She looked up at the cages which towered in the distance. A benign stranger would attend to the lost kids, and eventually Janine’s mother would collect them. The old widow would do a better job of raising them than Janine ever could.

 

She climbed into the driver’s seat, setting the rifle down in the passenger’s. The car pulled out onto the road in the direction of the state highway. 

Janine found Max in a pavilion filled with beer kegs and crusty fathers. He was sitting on a stool, hunched over a plastic cup and gazing into the mid-distance.  Avoid abstractions in fiction.  “in mid-distance” has little useful purpose for a reader.  It doesn’t evoke an image, and it’s general, not specific.  Always look in revision to increase concrete images.  This generalization acts as author fill and should be replaced by prose that advances characterization, setting, plot.  In general, remeber: concrete rather than abstract, action rather than stasis, and image evoking words related to story (for best effect).

“Max.” She touched his shoulder and he turned around, looking at her like she was a stranger.  This is confusing.  Does it mean she’s not a stranger?  Consider something like.  “He barely recognized her.”  It seems cleaner. He took a final swigged from the cup and followed her out of the pavilion

Outside, the children ran towards them.

“That was so much fun!” said Amina. “A boy fell and everyone started bouncing on him. He couldn’t get out of it. Then his mom came and pulled him out of the jumping castle.”

“That’s nice, dear,” said Janine. She looked at Max, they’d planned to make it to the motel by dusk but there was no way they could leave now. “How about a ride on the Ferris wheel?” she said to Amina and Daniel. They squealed with delight. Janine handed them $5 each.

“Be careful,” she called, as they ran away without saying thank you. Not important to scene.

Max rocked and Janine linked her arm through his. “Let’s take a nap in the car.”

Max hadn’t wanted to to avoid paying for parking, so they had left the car behind a thicket several minutes walk from the main lot. Max was silent until they were close enough to see the bumper protruding from the bush. Janine stepped off the gravel road and onto a path worn into the grass. Max stumbled after her, detaching his arm from hers and smacking her behind with a fat hand. When she made no response, he tugged around the middle with both arms. She pushed out of his grasp only to get yanked firmly by the wrist. They stood by the car.

“Max, can you please sleep it off? We’ve really got to get going.”

He ignored her, pressing her against the vehicle with his hips and pushing her breasts up with both hands. She tried to squirm away from him but he buried his beard into her neck, grazing her skin with his teeth.

“Max, stop.”

It happened like lightning. Max raised the back of his hand and smacked her hard in the cheek. She slammed a knee into his crotch and bolted to the trunk of the car. It popped open and she reached for a hunting rifle. Just as he was staggering around the side of the car, she pointed the gun at him.

He stopped, and raised both hands in surrender.

The rifle rattled with Janine’s tremors.

“Get away from me,” she screamed. Loud sobs racked her unstable body.

“Janine, baby, what are you doing?” Max stood straight and sober. “This isn’t funny.”

“I know it’s not fucking funny, you bastard. Get back!”

He hushed her. “You don’t know how to use that thing. It could go off for real. Give me the gun –”

“Get the fuck away from me.” She lurched forward.  Max flinched. “Stand against that tree. Hands behind your back.”

Max moved without delay, faced against the tree, arms up in the air. She followed him and pushed the barrel into his spine.

“I should fucking kill you, you son of a bitch.”

Max’s chest heaved as he started to cry.

“Baby, we’ve been married for 10 years. I know I drink too much, but I love you. I’m a good father. I haven’t missed a day at work and I provide for you.”

Janine had always believed it, that was why she never divorced. Marriage was sacrosanct, and she had faith in God’s power to guide her husband when he strayed.   Awkward back story at the wrong time.

“Baby,” Max said, his voice high and scared. “You know I love you. I’ll quit drinking. I swear I won’t touch another drop. And I won’t touch you again.”

The two of them stood sobbing, until Max quietened and Janine wiped her soaking eyes. She sniveled.

“I’m going to turn around now,” Max said. Janine lowered the gun and he took it from her gently, then as she reached her arms around his middle, wanting only to shrink into his chest, he raised the butt of the rifle and smacked her head. Janine fell to the ground. Above her, she heard the trigger click – the cartridge was empty.

“Fuck.”

Janine leapt to her feet and ran for the boot of the car, Max’s drunken reflexes leaving him several paces back. She grabbed the remaining rifle, spun to find a flushed and baffled Max advancing towards her, and shot.

He staggered and swayed, finally falling to ground, blood oozing from his middle in a low fountain. stomach.

Janine lowered the rifle, panting. A gust of wind blew a tumble weed over Max’s contorted figure. In the distance, she could hear the screams of delighted children and a clashing of music from the carousel, the cheap megaphones at the gates and the Ferris wheel. She looked up at the cages which towered in the distance. A benign stranger would attend to the lost kids, and eventually Janine’s mother would collect them. The old widow would do a better job of raising them than Janine ever could.

 Shed leave them to their own future.   The car pulled out onto the road in the direction of the state highway. 

 

The suggested shortening of the piece is to increase intensity.  Consider changing the end of the story.  The conflict is between Janine and Max.  The way it’s presented with the altercation, it doesn’t flow well to have the end of the story be punishing her children by abandoning them.  Does Max die? Does he change?  Is she injured by the blow she received?  Does she decide never to be with him again?  These seem to be questions to be answered that would be within the plot progression for the story.

 

Good work!

WHC

 

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Ruby hesitated for before answering the door. “I thought I heard voices. I wasn’t sure it was real, but your knocking was so persistent.”

            “Thank you kindly for letting us in, mam,” Dane said, pointing his hand gun directly at the old woman. “It’s dangerous out there.”

            She took no notice of the gun. “You’re welcome,” she said. “It’s nice to find someone with manners in these times.”

            “Have a seat, mam.” Dane gestured to the sofa. “Is anyone else in the house?”

            Ruby stared at him, her brow wrinkled. “I don’t know. That is I don’t remember. Well, yes, there is that sketchy looking fella behind you.”

            “Oh, that’s Spider. Pay him no mind. He’s with me.”

            Dane directed his conversation to his younger comrade, “Spider, search the house, while I stay here with the lady.”

            “Please don’t bother Cindy,” Ruby said. “She needs her rest after taking care of me all day.”

            “Is Cindy, your daughter?”

            “Oh my, no, but thanks to Cindy, her folks have taken me in, although I know they wish they hadn’t. I hear them talking sometimes. I don’t have grandchildren. I don’t suppose I ever will. My own daughter has passed.”

            Dane agreed, “I don’t suppose you will lady. Nor will anyone else, given the cataclysm. They say everyone is going to die in a matter of weeks. Me and Spider plan to hold out until the very end. Kind of like on one of those reality shows. This place looks safe, tucked out of the way. I guess that’s why you haven’t had trouble until now. Do you have provisions?”

            “Provisions?”

            “Food and water lady. It’s in short supply. The world is in chaos. Me and Spider are starving.”

            “Well I suppose the Santori’s could spare something.”

            “We plan to take it all, lady. Maybe hang out here for a while.”

            “Well, and I thought you were a gentleman.”

            “I’m not proud of my behavior mam, but a person’s got to adjust to the times.”

            She shook her head. “A person should abide by what’s right, no matter the circumstances. You could be a good person if you try.”

            “I don’t know about that lady. I’ve been bad for a long time. You can’t just erase what you’ve done. It’s always with you. Unless you’re like Spider. He has no conscience.” Dane nodded to Spider, who went off to the back rooms, gun in hand.

            “Who are you, again?” Ruby asked Dane.

            He raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t draw a bead on the old lady. She was rational a moment ago, even if she came to incorrect conclusions. “We’re the tax collectors lady.”

            Two gunshots exploded upstairs in quick succession, and then they heard a wailing scream.

            “Did you hear that?” Ruby looked perplexed, uncertain of her own ears. Dane recognized fear in her eyes for the first time. “What’s that man doing in the back rooms?”

            “Getting rid of what we can’t use. Making use of available assets. How old did you say your Cindy is?”

            Ruby lowered her head. “She’s fifteen,” she answered faintly. “Did you hear her scream, too?” She asked again.

            “Yeah, well, Spider’s been in prison until recently.”

            She looked hard at him, her chin jutting forward, “Cindy is my friend. You mustn’t harm her.”

            “Spider is my friend. I don’t know your Cindy.”

            “She brought me to her home, when I had nowhere to go. She is a good person.”

            Dane shrugged. “It doesn’t make much difference now. We’ll all be dead soon. Some just sooner than others, I’m afraid.”

            “Of course it matters. God knows we need each other in times like these.”

            “Why? Do you think God cares? It’s God that’s destroying the world.”

            “You don’t mean that.”

            “Look lady, I’m not all bad. I’ve got a soft spot for Spider.”

            A door slammed in the back. Cindy came running out from the back hallway. Spider followed, naked from the waist down, gun in hand.

             “Ruby! Help me.” Cindy blubbered.

            Ruby tried to get up but Dane pushed her back down on the sofa.

            Cindy’s, eyes bulged, gathering in the spectacle of her living room, a grisly man pointing a gun at Ruby, and the door chain hanging limply from its mount. “Oh Ruby, why?” She wailed.

            Then she made a beeline to the door.

             Dane shot her in the chest. She fell against the door and then sank to the floor. An audience of three watched as she scratched lamely at the door, before expiring.

            “Damit Dane, I wasn’t done with her,” Spider whined.

            “Let her rest in peace,” Dane said. “Put her with the others.”

            Ruby sat in stunned silence as Spider lifted the girl over his shoulder and carried her upstairs, blood soaking the back of his shirt. “Why did you shoot my Cindy? She was an innocent child.”

            Dane said, “Did you see the look on her face? She blamed you for what happened, but it’s not your fault. You were being neighborly, like a good Christian woman. Anyway, she’s better off. Spider can’t hurt her now.”

            “Don’t you see what it says about you, that you allow him his depravity?”

            His look turned cold. “Lady, I murdered the girl. I don’t see how I could do worse.”

            “Cindy was like a daughter to me.”

            “But she’s not. She’s other than you. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone is dead. Spider’s killed them, all the others. You are the only one left.”

            Ruby thought this over. “Oh no,” she said, “don’t kill me.”        

            “It can’t be helped. If this scourge ends, if the world survives, I wouldn’t want witnesses.” He raised the gun at her.

            “Jesus!” Ruby cried. “Don’t shoot a defenseless old lady. The others meant nothing to me, even Cindy. I’d never tell anyone what you did. You’re just looking out for yourself.”

            Dane stood staring at her, his eyes cold.

            “I’ll show you where they keep their money. They didn’t think I knew, but I do. You’re not like Spider. Pray Jesus.”

            “That, I’m afraid, is not true.” He stepped close to her and held the gun to her temple. Ruby closed her eyes and tensed.

            Spider bounded down the stairs at the sound of the gunshot. “She was a talkative one.”

            “Take her upstairs.”

            “Whoopee. This was some score.”

            “Shut up, Spider. Our times coming.”

 

Instructor Response

Ruby hesitated for before answering the door. “I thought I heard voices. I wasn’t sure it was real, but your knocking was so persistent.”  [Think about making her do something rather than hesitate.  It would begin to put momentum into the scene and could also set the scene . . . and maybe characterize.  Something like: Ruby screwed the top on her aspirin with codeine bottle.  And look to the dialogue too.  This is the beginning and little things are important not to lose the reader.  The dialogue “I thought I heard voices. I wasn’t sure it was real, but your knocking was so persistent.”  is awkward in quotes because it suggests she said it.  You might try an attribution, “she thought” or put it in italic.  The content and wording seem okay!   

            “Thank you kindly for letting us in, mam,” Dane said, pointing his hand gun directly at the old woman. “It’s dangerous out there.”

            She took no notice  [ignored? Slightly difference but indicates action.  You’re writing is at a level where accuracy of word choice will make a difference.]  of the gun. “You’re welcome,” she said. “It’s nice to find someone with manners in these times.”

            “Have a seat, mam.” Dane gestured to the sofa. “Is anyone else in the house?”

            Ruby stared at him, her brow wrinkled. “I don’t know. That is I don’t remember. Well, yes, there is that sketchy looking fella behind you.”

            “Oh, that’s Spider. Pay him no mind. He’s with me.”

            Dane directed his conversation to his younger comrade, “Spider, search the house, while I stay here with the lady.”

            “Please don’t bother Cindy,” Ruby said. “She needs her rest after taking care of me all day.”

            “Is Cindy, your daughter?”

            “Oh my, no, but thanks to Cindy, her folks have taken me in, although I know they wish they hadn’t. I hear them talking sometimes. I don’t have grandchildren. I don’t suppose I ever will. My own daughter has passed.”

            Dane agreed, “I don’t suppose you will lady. Nor will anyone else, given the cataclysm. They say everyone is going to die in a matter of weeks. Me and Spider plan to hold out until the very end. Kind of like on one of those reality shows. This place looks safe, tucked out of the way. I guess that’s why you haven’t had trouble until now. Do you have provisions?”

            “Provisions?”

            “Food and water lady. It’s in short supply. The world is in chaos. Me and Spider are starving.”

            “Well I suppose the Santori’s could spare something.”

            “We plan to take it all, lady. Maybe hang out here for a while.”

            “Well, and I thought you were a gentleman.”  Good.  Like the humor you’ve achieved.

            “I’m not proud of my behavior mam, but a person’s got to adjust to the times.”

            She shook her head. “A person should abide by what’s right, no matter the circumstances. You could be a good person if you try.”

            “I don’t know about that lady. I’ve been bad for a long time. You can’t just erase what you’ve done. It’s always with you. Unless you’re like Spider. He has no conscience.” Dane nodded to Spider, who went off to the back rooms, gun in hand.

            “Who are you, again?” Ruby asked Dane.

            He raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t draw a bead on the old lady. [Change in POV.  Okay if it’s intentional.  It does jolt the reader a little who is being held in narrator POV.]  She was rational a moment ago, even if she came to incorrect conclusions. “We’re the tax collectors lady.”

            Two gunshots exploded upstairs in quick succession, and then they heard a wailing scream.  [Here POV shifts briefly from narrative to they.  Intentional?]

            “Did you hear that?” Ruby looked perplexed, uncertain of her own ears.  [Don’t get this.  ?Confused?]  Dane recognized fear in her eyes for the first time. “What’s that man doing in the back rooms?”

            “Getting rid of what we can’t use. Making use of available assets. How old did you say your Cindy is?”

            Ruby lowered her head. “She’s fifteen,” she answered faintly. “Did you hear her scream, too?” She asked again.

            “Yeah, well, Spider’s been in prison until recently.”

            She looked hard at him, her chin jutting forward, “Cindy is my friend. You mustn’t harm her.”

            “Spider is my friend. I don’t know your Cindy.”

            “She brought me to her home, when I had nowhere to go. She is a good person.”

            Dane shrugged. “It doesn’t make much difference now. We’ll all be dead soon. Some just sooner than others, I’m afraid.”

            “Of course it matters. God knows we need each other in times like these.”

            “Why? Do you think God cares? It’s God that’s destroying the world.”

            “You don’t mean that.”

            “Look lady, I’m not all bad. I’ve got a soft spot for Spider.”

            A door slammed in the back. Cindy came running out from the back hallway. Spider followed, naked from the waist down, gun in hand.

             “Ruby! Help me.” Cindy blubbered.

            Ruby tried to get up but Dane pushed her back down on the sofa.

            Cindy’s, eyes bulged, gathering in the spectacle of her living room, a grisly man pointing a gun at Ruby, and the door chain hanging limply from its mount. “Oh Ruby, why?” She wailed.

            Then she made a beeline to the door.

             Dane shot her in the chest. She fell against the door and then sank to the floor. An audience of three watched as she scratched lamely at the door, before expiring.

            “Damit Dane, I wasn’t done with her,” Spider whined.

            “Let her rest in peace,” Dane said. “Put her with the others.”

            Ruby sat in stunned silence as Spider lifted the girl over his shoulder and carried her upstairs, blood soaking the back of his shirt. “Why did you shoot my Cindy? She was an innocent child.”

            Dane said, “Did you see the look on her face? She blamed you for what happened, but it’s not your fault. You were being neighborly, like a good Christian woman. Anyway, she’s better off. Spider can’t hurt her now.”

            “Don’t you see what it says about you, that you allow him his depravity?”

            His look turned cold. “Lady, I murdered the girl. I don’t see how I could do worse.”

            “Cindy was like a daughter to me.”

            “But she’s not. She’s other than you. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone is dead. Spider’s killed them, all the others. You are the only one left.”

            Ruby thought this over. “Oh no,” she said, “don’t kill me.”        

            “It can’t be helped. If this scourge ends, if the world survives, I wouldn’t want witnesses.” He raised the gun at her.

            “Jesus!” Ruby cried. “Don’t shoot a defenseless old lady. [Don’t shoot me.  I ain’t got not gun.  Something like that for more realistic dialogue.] The others meant nothing to me, even Cindy. I’d never tell anyone what you did. You’re just looking out for yourself.”

            Dane stood staring at her, his eyes cold.

            “I’ll show you where they keep their money. They didn’t think I knew, but I do. You’re not like Spider. Pray Jesus.”

            “That, I’m afraid, is not true.” He stepped close to her and held the gun to her temple. Ruby closed her eyes and tensed.

            Spider bounded down the stairs at the sound of the gunshot. “She was a talkative one.”

            “Take her upstairs.”

            “Whoopee. This was some score.”

            “Shut up, Spider. Our times coming.”

 

Russ—

Terrific.  Enjoyable.  The piece is a great integration of humor and meaning.  Well done.  You’ve taken a structure of a story and made it your own.  My comments are mostly on small points in the writing.  The POV observations are not a call for correction, just an observation for things you might consider.  They’re made to make you aware.  Only some readers will notice.  The dominant narrator delivery is perfect and the right choice overall.

Thanks for the submission!

Bill

  1. Bill,

    Thanks for your comments. They are always useful and enlightening. I originally had Ruby thinking she heard voices rather than having her say it. Guess I overthought that. I intentionally changed the POV in both places you mentioned only because I wasn’t able to get the meaning out as well through the narrator.

    One thing I tried to hint at, but I guess it didn’t get through, was the possibility that Dane and Spider were only figments of Ruby’s imagination, and that she might have been the killer. Several times, it is mentioned that she is uncertain if what she is hearing is real, or she is uncertain that other heard what she did. If that premise is accepted, then when Cindy says, “Oh Ruby, why?” she might be realizing that Ruby killed her parents. (But then, she shouldn’t have seen Dane, I suppose.)

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“Hap birday to me, hap birday to me,” Bailey intoned. “How old’m I again, Mama?”

Mrs Jacks kept her eyes on the road. “Forty-eight, Bailey. Forty-eight years old.”

Bailey fiddled with the glove compartment, slamming it open and closed.

“Nice car, nice car.”

“Leave that alone, Bailey. Sit properly.”

Bailey set up a steady thumping of his head against the seat rest.

Up ahead, two figures stood at the roadside. They were waving their arms. One was tall and one was short. As the car approached, the short one stepped right out into the road. Mrs Jacks slowed down. The man came up to the open window.

“Thanks for stopping, ma’am. We’re in an awful pickle. Won’t you just pull in here and give us a hand?”

Mrs Jacks peered out through the windscreen. “Hand with what?”

“Just pull over up here and we’ll show you. Your husband don’t mind. Do you, sir?”

Bailey mumbled and hit his head with his fist. The man jerked back then laughed. “Lords above. My mistake.”

Mrs Jacks flushed and put the car into first. The two men, one tall one short, walked along beside. She came to a stop on the dusty verge.

“Step out of the car,” the tall man said.

Mrs Jacks gripped the steering wheel. The sun was pushing down through the windscreen.

“Please tell me what it is you need help with. My son here, you can see… It’s been a long day. We need to get home.”

The tall man took her door handle and slowly pulled the door open. His hip was about level with her eyes. She saw he had a gun on his belt. She got out of the car, breathing hard with the pain in her joints.

“I need my walking stick, from the back seat.”

The tall man shook his head. “Not now.” He leaned down and looked into the car. “You’d better get out and all.”

Through the windscreen Mrs Jacks saw her son’s mouth droop.

“No no no, Bailey, it’s all right. Do what the nice man says and out you get and we’ll have ice-cream when we get home.”

Bailey’s eyes screwed up.

“No! Don’t want to!”

Mrs Jacks hobbled round the bonnet and opened the passenger door. “Please, Bailey.” She bent down stiffly and unsnapped the seatbelt. She pulled him by the arm and helped him clamber out. “Please, Bailey.”

 They stood together at the side of the road: the old lady and her imbecile son.

“Now listen good,” said the tall man. “We need a car, and yours is a nice one. Keep your mouths shut and there won’t be no trouble.”

Mrs Jacks felt the sun burning down on her head.

“Mama, my ice-cream?”

“When we get home, Bailey.”

The short man got into the driver’s seat. He turned the keys in the ignition, making the hot engine roar.

“I want my ice-cream!” Bailey started up a long, wide wail.

“In a minute!”

Mrs Jacks grasped Bailey’s arms to stop him flailing his fists. She felt her back creaking, and panted with the effort.

The tall man rested his arm on the roof of the car and smirked.

“Dropped, was he?”

Bailey’s wail got louder, rising above the noise of the engine.

“He’s my pride and joy,” said Mrs Jacks as Bailey’s elbow caught her in the chest. “He means no harm.”

“Hold him properly then.”

She tried. The tall man bent his knee to get into the car. Mrs Jacks felt her fingers lose their grip. Bailey stumbled forwards and lunged at the door.

There was a sharp crack. Bailey sat down heavily on the ground.

“Bailey Boy! Bailey Boy!”

“Shit,” said the short man.

The tall man got back out of the car. He pointed the warm gun at Mrs Jacks and looked down at Bailey, sitting hunched against the front tire.

“Let me at him,” cried Mrs Jacks. “He’s hurt, he needs a cuddle!”

“You stay right where you are. He’s already caused you enough trouble.”

Bailey sat motionless. Mrs Jacks looked at the gun that was pointed at her and back to her son there by the car.

 “You can’t kill me! I have to drive him home.”

 “Listen, lady. You’re witness to a shooting now. I can’t let that stand.”

“No no, don’t you shoot! He needs his Mama! He can’t wash or dress or eat a thing without. And now he’s all dirty, look, he needs a bath!

The tall man gave a short, sharp laugh. He put his foot against Bailey’s shoulder.

“Your Bailey don’t need nothing anymore.”

He pushed and Bailey sprawled sideways into the dust, a lifeless corpse. Mrs Jacks looked at the blood caking beneath him and felt as if a trapped bird had flown away out of her chest. She looked up at the tall man with the gun.

“Why, he’s dead.”

“That’s right.”

Her head cleared for an instant. “Then I’m free to go.”

“That’s right.”

The tall man shot her neatly through the heart. She fell backwards and lay with her arms spread out, her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.

The man wiped Bailey’s blood off the door sill and got into the car. “Let’s get moving.”

The short man snorted. “Grannies and cripples now, is it?”

“Shut up, Bobby. It was a good deed we done. Put them both out of their misery.”

Instructor Response

This is excellent. You’ve kept the inexplicable horror of the original and made it your own. Dialogue is excellent, a special talent. And the scene moves! Great job.

You’ve got the narrator telling the story. Nicely done. Reader gets a good sense of all the characters quickly, mainly through dialogue and action. Again, nicely done.

Here’s a suggestion to push your talents to the extreme. Let’s say you want to add to this scene in ways the would provide characterization about the mother. How her emotions evolve through the scene and how this emotional arc could display her feelings about her son, and life in general. Her prime feeling could be love, but that’s too easy. Maybe resentment, disgust, dislike, shame, her victimization (anger), etc. The possibilities are endless. But with your skills, you have the ability to insert this emotional progression through the scene and make it work for you as a writer. Use mother’s point of view this time, but I’d suggest staying in third person for most effectiveness, not first person, which would force loss of the effectiveness of this scene. Internalize, but be prudent.

If you chose to try it, you’ll probably begin to feel the conflict of plot and character in fiction writing. In other words, you’ve created a terrific action scene that moves the plot with suspense and momentum. If you change purpose of the scene to develop character, you’ll begin to change the scene in ways that are not bad, just different, with different effects, as you switch emphasis on scene purpose.

This sort of practice puts you in control of the story telling, and keeps you, as a writer, in focus in providing for the reader in ways that will be engaging, entertaining, and enlightening. And it will also help you keep aware of emotions of characters and narrator in all your writing giving a sort of baked-in dimension to writing that most authors never achieve.

Anyway, good luck. And thanks for submission.

WHC

  1. Hi WHC,

    Many thanks for your feedback. I very much agree with what you say about the character’s emotional development. You are right that the ultimate story purpose is to explore and resolve the mother’s complex feelings for her son – which are suddenly shifted for her by his unexpected death. I just found it hard to get all that across in this short ending scene! Adding more internalization would certainly help, as I agree as it stands, her thoughts and feelings are not coming across enough.

    My plan though was actually to develop this scene backwards, into a short story, which (as you say) would expound the mother’s conflicting emotions. In my head, ultimately she wants to be free of her son and able to die in peace, but cannot imagine how this could ever happen, as she is his mother and he needs her. She is torn between her lifelong responsibility for Bailey and her desire to reach the end of her own painful life. But then – bam! – Bailey gets shot and she realises she can now die herself without worry….

    I like the idea of just developing this emotional arc in the above scene first (a good challenge). Then I’ll have a go at developing it through a full short story.

    Thanks again for your help. I’m looking forward to the next assignment!

    • Your thinking is on target. And you’re right about a single scene being too short to deal with plot and charaterization, and stories–that are made up of scenes (useful to think of a scene as a mini story)–always should have both enmeshed in the telling. That’s the advantage of literary prose storytelling. So, in a general sense, every scene has an emotional arc that may or may not be stated . . . for every character. Emotion is in your scene, but you appropriately followed the directions which were to rewrite a scene that, although seemingly filled with emotion, is stragely void of O’Connor expressing them except through violent action and dialogue–still not admirably achieved by her, I think, with the emphasis on plot. Emotional arcs clearly created subtly is one of the skills that makes a good fiction writer stand out from the average and mediocre. Thinking about feeling as they impregnate a scene (as they so in life) allows an author to translate the writing into pinpoint dialogue, and vibrant description and action. If you have the emotions of a scene in mind, every element become synergistic. I’m glad you’re going to work further on this. Be sure not to think of it as a correction. You scene was very well done. This is simply practicing to keep in control of your writing, making everything count. Great work!

      All the best,

      WHC

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