What Should Writers Steal?

I was sitting at a desk doing volunteer work for an organization I belong to, and sitting not far away were a group of six or seven middle age-or older-women at a long table holding a monthly meeting. I could not hear anything specific in their discussion, but since they were in my direct line of vision and since they were preoccupied with whatever they were discussing I was an unobtrusive observer.

And I could spy. And I could steal without being noticed.

One of the women had a hairstyle best described as worn-out Brillo pad. She chewed gum with intense fierceness, unlike a cow who enjoys her cud with gourmet bliss. At one point the woman got up and left the building, coming back about six minutes later. I believe she had gone out for a cigarette; she had that ‘air’ about her. And she had, what I assumed, was fresh cud-excuse me-gum in her mouth. She went back to her seat and resumed her chew. A short while later a man and woman came in.

The man wore a bright knit cap, knitted with the colors of the rainbow, plus colors that existed only on the cap, in a horizontal pattern that encircled his head. The man bent over to look in a display case. I noticed a perfect circle a few inches in diameter cut out of the top of the cap. He was bald-at least in that spot. I imagined that if he wore the cap in summer, he might have a cute little tan spot at the top of his head. I didn’t ask him about the strange circle at the top of the cap for I didn’t want to break my observation. A spy can’t make contact with his quarry. You understand right?

The point is not why he had cutout that small circle in his knit cap, nor is the point about what the woman was doing with her gum, but what you can steal from around you. What you can use in describing characters in your story.

When you observe people, what they wear, how they walk, anything that stands out, you make a mental note, or like me, write it down in my small pocket notebook-when nobody you are observing can see you of course. You are the spy, you are the thief, and you must be discreet.

Character traits, odd little tics and quirks, make your characters more believable and identifiable to your readers. When your reader sees the character in their minds they are more involved with your story.

My observations of people I have stolen from and transformed into fictional characters can be found in my e-Books on Amazon. The descriptions of the books can be found in my header.

 

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Why a Writer Should Work Like an Actor

Before I answer the question posed I want to set the scene before two characters talk.
In a short story I am working on, a man is walking down a hallway, stops in front of a door with a security window, punches a code into a keypad, and enters into another hallway.

I do not tell what the facility is, but through describing what the man sees in the hallway, like the color of the walls and what type of pictures or posters are hanging on the wall and using phrases like ‘institutional carpet’ and what he observes by watching people, some of whom are looking at a TV, though few seem to be comprehending, the reader should get the idea that the man is in a nursing home.
The man walks into a room where a woman is sitting and looking out the window. He pulls up a chair and begins to talk. So now we have a setting. And now they must talk.
When faced with a conversation, especially an emotional one and one with a twist, and a conversation that must reveal character, a lot of thought must go into the dialogue.
You must know your character, know how he talks, and know his personality. What you need not know is how the conversation will end. If you choose to think of how it will end and write towards that end that works too. For me, I like to make it up as I go along. Like an improve actor.
If I know my character, then I can imagine the conversation. As I write I know the man is going to reminisce about two things. One is about how happy he was when he got married and the other is the worst day of his life when his two children, home from college, are killed in an auto accident.
So, like an actor, I go with the scene. A writer must get into the character’s head and pretend to be the character. Writing fiction requires you, not to think, but to feel. A good actor feels the words, understands the emotion. Once you feel the emotion of the words, the dialogue flows. It did for me, usually does. And in this moment where the man says more than the woman he is conversing with I come up with something that makes it all work, including the twist.
You see, the man thought he was talking to his wife. The woman said that she was not his wife, that her children were not dead. She made short interjections, then asked him to call a nurse; three of four times she would break in and ask for the nurse.
When the nurse does come she sees the man and an empty chair.
The man was not in the right room, his wife is dead, the woman who lives in the room was watching TV in the activity area, and the man had dementia.
But you never say what the facility is. You never give the background like a reporter giving news. You reveal through descriptive imagery and through dialogue, imagining you are an actor, not on the stage, but on the page.
Finished imaginings of mine are found at the top of my web page and the e-books are available on Amazon.
Thanks for reading.

What should a writer pretend to be when writing dialogue?

Before I answer the question posed I want to set the scene before two characters talk.

In a short story I am working on, a man is walking down a hallway, stops in front of a door with a security window, punches a code into a keypad, and enters into another hallway.

I do not tell what the facility is, but through describing what the man sees in the hallway, like the color of the walls and what type of pictures or posters are hanging on the wall and using phrases like ‘institutional carpet’ and what he observes by watching people, some of whom are looking at a TV, though few seem to be comprehending, the reader should get the idea that the man is in a nursing home.

The man walks into a room where a woman is sitting and looking out the window. He pulls up a chair and begins to talk. So now we have  a setting. And now they must talk.

When faced with a conversation, especially an emotional one and one with a twist, and a conversation that must reveal character , a lot of thought must go into the dialogue.

You must know your character, know how he talks, and know his personality. What you need not know is how the conversation will end. If you chose to think of how it will end and write towards that end that works too. For me, I like to make it up as I go along. Like an improve actor.

If I know my character, then I can imagine the conversation. As I write I know the man is going to reminisce about two things. One will is about how happy he was when he got married and the other is the worst day of his life when his two children, home from college, are killed in an auto accident.

So, like an actor, I go with the scene. A writer must get into the character’s head and pretend to be the character. Writing fiction requires you, not to think, but to feel. A good actor feels the words, understands the emotion. Once you feel the emotion of the words, the dialogue flows. It did for me, usually does. And in this moment where the man says more than the woman he is conversing with I come up with something that makes it all work, including the twist.

You see, the man thought he was talking to his wife. The woman said that she was not his wife, that her children were not dead. She made short interjections, then asked him to call a nurse, three of four times she would break in and ask for the nurse.

When the nurse does come she sees the man and an empty chair.

The man was not in the right room, his wife is dead, the woman who lives in the room was watching TV in the activity area, and the man had dementia.

But you never say what the facility is. You never give the background like a reporter giving news. You reveal through descriptive imagery and through dialogue, imagining you are an actor, not on the stage, but on the page.

Finished imaginings of mine are found at the top of my web page and the e-books are available on Amazon.

Thanks for reading.

I raise the curtain behind a writers madness in writing a sentence

Writing is rewriting. The following is based on a short story I am starting. I thought it might be fun and instructional to show what goes through a writers mind as he/she tries to get a sentence and paragraph.  So let’s peek into my madness.

 

THEY COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH SOME COULD GET IN.

I know who ‘they’ are, the reader doesn’t. ‘They’ could be humans, or ‘they’ could be animals. The sentence needs clarity.

THE PEOPLE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, THOUGH PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE DOOR COULD GET IN.

More specific, yet dull.

A CODE ON THE DOOR WAS NEEDED TO GET IN. THREE NUMBERS TO PUSH, THEN A CLICK WAS HEARD, THEN ONE PUSHED THE DOOR OPEN, LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOW TO MAKE SURE SOMEONE INSIDE COULDN’T GET OUT, OR RATHER SHOULDN’T GET OUT.

Better, but awkward, does not say how the code is used. Does someone say “Alexa, please open door” or say three numbers, or are buttons pushed on a security pad. Also grammar is bad.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE CARPETED HALLWAY, THE WALLS HUNG WITH INOFFENSIVE CHEERFUL POSTERS LEADING TO THE DOOR.

Problem is the walls are not hung, the posters (framed-should have used framed posters) are hung, and that is not what leads to the door.

A MAN WALKED DOWN THE INSTITUTIONAL CARPETED HALLWAY TOWARDS A THICK METAL DOOR WHICH HAD A REINFORCED WINDOW. FEW USED THIS HALLWAY, ONLY VISITORS AND STAFF AND THERE WAS ALWAYS MORE STAFF INSIDE THAN VISTORS. NEXT TO THE DOOR WAS A SECURITY PAD. THE MAN PUSHED THREE BUTTONS ON THE PAD, HEARD THE CLICK OF THE DOOR, BUT BEFORE PUSHING THE DOOR OPEN, THE MAN BRIEFLY PAUSED TO LOOK THROUGH THE WINDOW IN THE DOOR TO MAKE SURE IT WAS SAFE TO OPEN. THERE WERE PEOPLE WAITING TO GET OUT AND THEY MUST REMAIN. IT WAS CLEAR.

I like this. I used institutional carpeted to give the reader a hint of the type of building. I used ‘few used this hallway’ to make the reader wonder why (part of the hook if you will). And for the same reason wrote ‘more staff than visitors’ so that the reader will wonder what kind of place has more staff than visitors along with ‘few used this hallway.” The hallway and the building I hope arouse the reader’s curiosity. Then we have some action the man ‘pushed,’ ‘heard,’ and ‘paused.’ And finish with people inside must remain. And why.

If your first reaction is this is a jail, it is not. My intent is to describe what is inside the door through the actions or inactions of the people inside, doing so without telling you what the building is, but by describing what is going on it will become clear to the reader. Always better to show, not tell. I am not sure I am done with the opening paragraph. But it is time to move on to the second, to move forward, then go through it all over again.

 
The point for writers is to just write a simple sentence no matter how bad it looks, and then expand. Just starting gets the creative juices going. It may be slow for a bit, but then it picks up and you get on a roll. And as every writer knows, that is when magic happens.

My e-books are found on Amazon.

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THE DAY I MET A 1911 BASEBALL STAR

You know you are getting old when you can tell people you met a pitching star whose rookie season was 1911. That was over a century ago.

 
I’m not a time traveler, I did not meet him in 1911; but at my age when reflecting on early parts of my life it sometimes seems I am traveling through time. The present is a totally different world from the late 1950’s.

 
I was probably in grade school. My father had been a pitcher in his youth, playing in an industrial league where I grew up. He gave that up when he decided to marry and have a family.

 
One of the umpires in the industrial league was a former major league pitcher who had an eatery in downtown Hoquiam, Washington, where I grew up. He told my dad-this is dad’s story- that this umpire told him he was good enough to pitch in the Pacific Coast League.

 
Who Knows?

 
But my dad took me to the eatery and introduced me to Vean Gregg, a pitcher who had a Hall of Fame start to his career until his arm went bad. In his rookie year of 1911 with the Cleveland Indians he was 23-7 with a league leading 1.80 ERA. Had there been a Rookie of the Year award he would have won.

 
The next two years he was 20-13 both seasons with ERA’s of 2.59 and 2.54. Then arm woes. He was 9-3 in 1914 before being traded to the Red Sox where he went 4-4. He was with Boston through 1916, then the Philadelphia A’s in 1918 and a final fling with Washington in 1925. His career record was 92-63 with a 2.70 ERA.

 
I remember sitting on a lunch counter stool and looking at Gregg as my father introduced me. I recall Gregg had nice smile and I have this image of the three of us going to a back room where I got to see some memorabilia.

 
He played on the same team as Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the great hitters of the game. He was also a teammate of Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. Gregg also played with the only player to be killed by a pitched ball, Ray Chapman.

 
And oh, yes, when he was traded to Boston he was on the same staff with a 19 year old pitcher named Babe Ruth. I wish I could recall every word of the conversation. Did I ask him what it was like to pitch to Ty Cobb? I remember images, not the words of the conversation. Knowing what I now know of baseball history I wish I could have that conversation again.

 
But at least I have the memory of meeting Vean Gregg, a star pitcher for three great seasons. That is what baseball can do. Give you memories that link to a bygone era. Sort of like being a time traveler.

 

And this memoir about Vean Gregg is what led me to be a writer. In researching and studying the 1911 baseball season I remembered the story of Charlie Faust and in researching Charlie I decided to write a fictional account of his brief time with the New York Giants. And because I liked two fictional characters I created for the Faust story I continued with them in two more novels with another finished, waiting publication, and another in the early stages of writing.

 

Every writer has a journey. This is how mine began.

 

Charlie’s story and the continuing adventures of Chat and Eveleen are e-books that are on Amazon.

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Author Paul Auster; what writing is and who writers are, part one

One of my favorite writers-and I have many-is Paul Auster and in his novel Brooklyn Follies the following passage considers what writing is and who writers are:

“Take a close look at the lives of poets and novelists, and what you wound up with was unalloyed chaos, an infinite jumble of exceptions. That was because writing was a disease, Tom continued, what you might call an infection or influenza of the spirit, and therefore it could strike anyone at any time. The young and old, the strong and the weak, the drunk and the sober, the sane and the insane. Scan the roster of the giants and semi-giants, and you would discover writers who embraced every sexual proclivity, every political bent, and every human attribute-from the loftiest idealism to the most insidious corruption. They were criminals and lawyers, spies and doctors, soldiers and spinsters, travelers and shut-ins. If no one could be excluded, and what prevented an almost sixty-year-old ex-life insurance agent from joining their ranks? What law declared that Nathan Glass had not been infected by the disease?”

Writing was always something I wanted to do, but early rejection dissuaded me. Later in life when the regrets of unfinished desires in life weighed heavily on my spirit, I became infected with a ravenous hunger to finish what I started.

I had doubts, I had fears, and like Nathan Glass, felt I was too old. The doubts and fears, however, were no match for the fear of not writing, of not moving forward, of having that monstrous ogre of life regrets go unquenched.

I have written two collection of horror/twilight zone type of e-short stories and three e-novels and a fourth to be published soon. Success does not matter, movie deals do not matter, for feeding this wonderful infection is life giving.

If you feel you are infected, do not wait. Start writing.

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Three cheap ways to become a bookaholic

After counting and doing a recount I have 234 unread books; 133 of the old fashioned kind, hardback and paperback and 81 21st century e-books. And I accumulated these books quite cheaply. And I have my eye on “The Autobiography of Mark Twain, volume 1” for $2 and an American Heritage book of the Civil War; pictures, illustrations, with words from Bruce Catton and James McPherson for $3. If you love books, here are my legitimate secrets. And I am not talking about Goodwill, yard sales, and the like.

  1. In Western Washington, the Timberland Library has a section where customers can buy books. Paperbacks $1 and hardbacks generally $2. It raises money for the library and therefore you are doing a good thing. I don’t know what happens in other libraries, in other states or regions, but check with your local library. I have found classics like “Madame De Lafayette” by The Princess De Cleves, as well as books from Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, J.A. Jance, and some terrific non-fiction books like “The Oxford History of the Classical World.” The Friends of the Library raises money for the library and once a year they have a sale. I bought ten hardbacks for $2.25 and came back after 3 o’clock when everything was half priced and bought more books. And the day before the sale there was a box and two small bins that had free books. I took ten and they were from well known writers. One was a 1951 Dell paperback edition of Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural” and the cover was priceless, the condition quite good. Over those two days, including the free books I came away with 28 books, spending less than $4 and two bags of VHS tapes that they gave away for nothing, it being after 3 o’clock and they wanted to get rid of them. All were popular and classic films.
  2. In Olympia, Washington, and there may be one near you, is Half Price Books. They also have record albums, DVD’s, and classic comic books. The condition of their books  are better than what you might find at the library and once a year they have a sale where all books are $1.00. It is here I bought two Don DeLillo books, two early Michael Crichton books written under the name of John Lange, now published in the Hard Crime series, a great collection if you like crime noir and pulp fiction. I also purchased an Elmore Leonard, a P.D. James, among other books. They have other specials during the week, but this is one sale you never miss.
  3. Turning to e-Books there are many subscription services that send you daily emails where you can get e-Books from free to $2.99 and these e-Books, in the case of BookBub, are from well know writers. With BookBub you select the type of books you want, such as mystery, historic non-fiction, science fiction, horror, romance, whatever you desire.

The problem I face, and perhaps some of you as well, is that purchasing outgrows your reading. This is how I now have 234 unread books. Remember I never said you have to read any of them. I have read one since I reached 234, that being “The Ghost Writer” and am close to finishing James Patterson’s “Swimsuit.” So you can imagine with two books gone I will be getting itchy eyes for some more choices to read. I guess the Twain biography and the Civil War book may be added by days end.

If you have some cheap ways to get books please mention in the comment section. Not just for me, but for other bookaholics.

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Free paranormal short story to chill your bones this weekend

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This short story, “A Walk through the Cemetery” appears in one of my e-Books, “More Cemetery Tales and other Phantasms” and is copyrighted, but I offer it for you this weekend.

A piercing shriek roared through the evergreens; loud, hard, and violent, then died as soon as it began. A small branch, high in an evergreen, snapped off from a longer limb and fell to the ground. Leaves fluttered down from nearby maples. Upon hearing the howl a man walking in the cemetery stopped and looked up at the swaying tree tops. A storm coming he thought as he looked at the dark gray clouds swiftly arriving from the east, beginning to blot out the sun.

He walked through the cemetery nearly every day since his retirement. Good for the heart. Build up the legs as well. Mountain View Cemetery took up a few city blocks in length, so it was a good walk from end to end, then a few blocks to the park with a small lake where he once saw a river otter swimming.  There was a dog park farther down from the lake. Also there were sheltered picnic areas, ball fields, and a wading pool. Years ago he attended a memorial service in one of the shelters for a deceased relative. 

He thought about that service when he was walking through the cemetery last week. There appeared to be a celebration going on. A grave had dozens of balloons, the kind you find in grocery stores with writing on them, tied down with rocks. Cars were parked along the back of the cemetery where people were greeting each other like it was a reunion; everybody drinking something from cups, kids eating hot dogs, grownups with chicken in their hands. The man did not know whether to chuckle at a picnic in a cemetery or be impressed that so many came to honor what must be a deceased relative.

Today the cemetery was quiet, nobody in sight. Except for the man sitting on a small John Deere tractor with a large claw that was digging up dirt. As he neared the man he saw that there were two by fours on each side of the rectangular pit. It was a grave, one being made new and fresh for an occupant.

He watched for a minute. Then the man got off the tractor, got a long pole and placed it in the pit at various spots. “Are you measuring to make sure it is all even,” he asked.

The man with the pole said nothing.

“I didn’t mean to bother you. I have never seen a grave dug before that’s all. It’s kind of interesting. Not to you of course. To you it’s work. Do you mind if I watch?”

The man with the pole set it down and climbed back onto the tractor. The claw scooped out more dirt, and then the arm of the claw swiveled around and dropped the dirt into a wagon. After this was done twice the man climbed down once again and did his measuring. He began to stomp down a section of the pit close to where the tractor was.

“I’m guessing it must be close to being done huh?”

The man in the pit said nothing.

“Did you hear that wind screeching a few minutes ago? That was something wasn’t it?”

The man in the pit climbed out, walked to the tractor, opened a knapsack, took out a sandwich, took a bite, then placed the sandwich in a plastic bag, and placed it in the knapsack.  

“Is there some kind of rule about not talking to gravediggers, or whatever you call yourselves? I’m just trying to be civil and thought it interesting what you were doing. Forgive me if I am being out of line, but are you a mute? I’m not trying to be funny here, just wondering why you won’t talk with me.”

The gravedigger, if that was what he was, walked about ten yards to a grave and set upright a small vase that had fallen over. He walked away leaving the man to himself. The man walked over to the grave where the grave digger had set the vase and reading the headstone realized the man resting below was a new arrival, having died a few days ago.

He looked for the gravedigger, but did not see him. The man continued his walk until he was at the entrance. He stopped, though he did not know why. But he did not want to walk to the park. For some reason he wanted to continue to walk here. So he walked, not down his normal path, but on the path that took him along the outer edges, a much longer walk. After about twenty minutes he encountered another man who was raking up some fall leaves.

“Excuse me, but do you work here?”

“Yes, can I help you with something?”

“It’s about a co-worker of yours, the other one here today.”

“I am the only one working today. What man are you talking about?”

“He was over there; you see where the tractor is. He was digging a grave, then got out and looked to be measuring the depth of the grave, I guess anyway, with a pole.”

“And when did this happen?”

“Oh, I don’t know. About half an hour ago, give or take.”

Uh huh. Well I didn’t see him.”

“I did. The tractor is about what, fifty yards or more from here. Maybe you didn’t see him because you’re here working.”

“I wasn’t here half an hour ago. Just came over here a few minutes ago.”

“Well this guy had a knapsack in the tractor and I saw him reach in and get a bite of a sandwich.”

“What kind was it? Ham and cheese?”

“I don’t know what kind?”

“Well what about this guy you’re talking about anyway. What’s the problem?”

“I was watching him and asked some questions about what he was doing. But he would not answer me. I was trying to be friendly and all and he ignored me like I wasn’t even there. Don’t see the reason for him to be rude.”

The man with the rake lost a little color in his face. “What did this man look like?”

“Well he was maybe about fifty or so, not to good with figuring a man’s age you know. But was tanned like he worked outdoors, and his skin was real smooth, kind of aristocratic you might say. Tall and lean.”

The man with the rake shook his head. “Don’t know him, never seen him, don’t want to see him.”

“What is going on here? If you don’t know him, aren’t you worried about him fooling around with your equipment? Was that your sandwich he took a bite from?”

“Look, the next time you see him, just leave him alone. And be grateful he doesn’t talk with you. He is not somebody you want to know and you, for sure, do not want to engage in any conversation with him, about anything.”

“So you do know him then? What’s his story?”

“The truth I told you. I don’t know him, but I know of him. Just let it be, forget about it.”

The man with the rake then dropped it and walked hurriedly away towards an area where the tractor was stored.

 

Just forget about it he says, thought the old man later as he sat in his home watching a show on TV called “Diggers,” about two men with metal detectors who go to historic sights looking for artifacts. How do you forget something like this? Why was this gravedigger, if that was what he was, being so rude and why did the man with the rake tell me to stay away from the man he has never seen in the first place. None of it made sense.

The old man did not have a restful night. Sleep came in awkward fits, awakened by the sensation of something, maybe a spider crawling up his leg; then later on his other leg. He brushed the sensation or spiders away. The sound of what seemed like somebody standing outside his window scratching softly on the glass. He felt probed and poked. He woke up, but nobody was there. Sounds real or imagined-and if imagined-just as real, for delusions have their own reality, kept him awake. He would not give into sleep. He would remain watchful, vigilant. Finally the sounds, the sensations went away. All was still. His eyes weary, feeling nothing, sleep came whether wanted or not.

He awoke the next morning without any memory of a sleepless night. In fact he felt at peace, rested and refreshed. He was not hungry, but eager for a walk, so he headed out to the cemetery.

The morning was sunny and warm, birds chirping; a late autumn gift to soothe woes, lift spirits, the last chance to enjoy the warmth of the sun before winter brings gray skies, cold weather to chill the bones.

The man enjoyed the walk through the pioneer section of the cemetery, a section thick with evergreens, dirt roads, and tombstones so old that one was tipped askew; facing a tree as if looking into a mirror, the name and dates of the deceased could not be read without bending down and around and then the weathered name was near impossible to make out.

When he came to the columbarium the evergreens gave way to a few maples, but mostly clear spaces with long rows of graves. When he walked from the dirt trail to the paved path he saw the tractor exactly where it was yesterday and standing next to it was the aristocratic man who would not speak with him. He was standing next to an open grave below a canopy, chairs aligned facing the grave.

The man walked up to the tall and lean man and asked, “Do you remember me from yesterday?”

“It wasn’t yesterday, it was a couple of days ago, but of course, I do remember you.”

“You may be younger than me, but I know it was yesterday. I am not senile. Why wouldn’t you talk with me? What’s wrong with you anyway?”

“Don’t let appearances deceive you. I am much older than you. I did not talk with you because there was nothing I had to say to you. I was aware of your questions, but really, it was obvious what I was doing. I really don’t like small talk. I knew you would return and I knew your questions would be answered. I am patient. All things in their time.”

“You’re an odd duck. I talked to your buddy yesterday. He says you don’t work here, that I shouldn’t talk with you. So what are you doing here?”

“Well, ‘my buddy’ as you call him is not my buddy. He is the caretaker here at Mountain View. I am merely the gravedigger. We have separate responsibilities and never see each other. I don’t think he likes me much, not many do I’m afraid.”

“Well if you don’t talk with people you won’t have any friends. Kind of obvious don’t you think?”

“I talk with people when the time is right.”

“I guess the time is right for me because here we are chatting.”

“Yes the time is right.”

“So who died?”

“Look for yourself.” He pointed towards the head of the grave. The man walked over and stood in front of it. He did not know whether to laugh or be mad. He looked to the tall and lean man who was smiling.

“Some joke. What’s the gag? This headstone has my name on it and yet I am here talking with you. Standing right here, standing and talking, and you are listening and talking. We are talking here.”

“Yes we are talking aren’t we?”

“Well then, I’m not dead, I’m alive.”

“Are you?”

“Of course I am you nut. I can’t be dead if I’m talking with you. That caretaker guy said there was something wrong with you, that I should stay away from you and now I know why. You’re going to get into trouble for this. What happens when the mourners arrive and see the name on the headstone?  What then huh?”

“Do you hear anything?”

“What? What do you mean ‘do I hear anything?’ Of course I do. I hear you don’t I?”

“Did you hear the cars arrive? Did you hear the car doors being opened? Do you presently hear any voices besides mine?”

The old man turned and looked. He saw his cousin Pamela first, then Denny, Brad, John, Mindy, all cousins. He saw his children, his grandchildren. He saw friends, acquaintances, business associates. Everyone he saw, he knew. He called to them. They did not answer. He walked up to them and said hello. They did not answer. Frustrated, he walked back to the tall and lean man. “I am not dead. I am standing here. I am wearing cargo pants, a Hawaiian shirt. I am not in a coffin. This is quite a prank, but it’s not funny anymore.”

“You did request, did you not, to be buried in comfortable clothing, saying cargo pants and a Hawaiian shirt?”

The old man thought for a second. “Of course you would know that. It is part of the prank. I told a few people about what I wanted. It is in my lawyer’s file. Of course you would know and be part of all this.”

“But alive you would be wearing shoes. Are you wearing shoes?”

The old man looked down. “I forgot them. I was eager to go for a walk, to see you, to find out what was going on with you yesterday, to question your rudeness.”

“And did you have breakfast. I think not.”

“I wasn’t hungry, that’s all.”

“But you always have breakfast. Don’t you?”

“This is absurd.”

Everyone was seated. Some man he did not know was speaking about the old man. The old man looked at the tall and lean man, and then turned and walked away. He was going to resume his walk. He was going to walk to the park today, to see the lake, maybe the river otter, stop at store for a candy bar. He would not take part in this stupid joke.

As he approached the building housing the tractors he saw the caretaker. He walked up to him, raking leaves as he was yesterday, and said, “That stupid gravedigger talked to me today. You were right. He is somebody you don’t want to talk with, what a nut case.”

The caretaker said nothing.

“Oh for God’s sake. Are you in on this joke too; they get to you. Who is responsible for this anyway? You must know?”

The caretaker said nothing.

“The joke’s over. I’m on to you guys. Very elaborate. Everybody I know is involved, but it’s over. You can tell me, you can talk with me.”

The caretaker said nothing.

“He can’t hear you.” It was the tall and lean man.

“You know I’m going to walk out of here you know. I just am. You can’t stop me. This is not funny.”

“You are free to walk wherever you want to go. It changes nothing. The last time you saw me I would not talk with you because it was not the right time, but the caretaker talked with you didn’t he. You were alive then. But today is your funeral. The caretaker, your family, your friends, all who came, could not see you, nor hear you. Because you are dead you see. I can talk with you now because I am the gravedigger.”

The old man stared at the tall and lean man, and then turned to stare at the caretaker; the old man’s face grimacing, he turned and walked in circles around the two men, pacing quicker and quicker, anger rising within him. He had enough. He stopped and all the frustration, all the anger, all the fed up emotion came out in one loud, bellowing scream.

A piercing shriek roared through the evergreens; loud, hard, and violent, then died as soon as it began. A small branch, high in an evergreen, snapped off from a longer limb and fell to the ground. Leaves fluttered down from nearby maples. Upon hearing the howl a woman walking slowly in the cemetery stopped and looked up at the swaying tree tops. A storm coming she thought as she looked at the dark gray clouds swiftly arriving from the east, beginning to blot out the sun.

 

Thanks for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it.

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What five rules of Journalism also apply to fiction

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Years ago I wrote brief high school sports reports on games I never saw. Honest. There were too many schools and too many games to cover in basketball, wrestling, swimming, and soccer, so somebody from outlying schools would call the newsroom, usually the winning coach, to give me all the stats, after which I would do a brief interview. The sports editor was emphatic that the five W’s should be in the first paragraph. Those five are  ‘who, what, where, when, and why.’ The rest of the article expands the five w’s.

Some fiction does begin with the five w’s, but obviously not all. A clever writer can do it and it might be a good writing exercise, especially for flash fiction.

Those five w’s also apply to fiction. The ‘who’ are the characters, notably the protagonist and the antagonist, the ones who get top billing, but all other relevant characters as well. The ‘where’ is the setting of where the story takes place and of course ‘when’ the story takes place. The’ what’ is the story, the action, the plot, the ‘whatever’ the story is including the denouement, the resolution of the plot that explains everything; in other words the ‘why.’ 

Of course the ‘why’ need  not explain everything in black and white. Often a little mystery, or something not quite resolved, or something to make the reader think about the ending is welcome. Not wrapping everything up in a nice little bow is not always for the best. It depends on what you want to leave the reader with and how you built up to that point.

The ‘how’ is sometimes considered the sixth rule of journalism, but that is iffy for a journalist, as one never gets all the facts, nor all the story so the ‘how’ is contingent on what is known. The ‘how’ in fiction, however, should be seamless because the ‘how’ are the tricks of the trade, the things a writer does to make to make the ‘how’ invisible.

Those who are avid readers know that some journalist’s stories often read like fiction in that they use fiction devices in long articles. Conversely some fiction reads like a news story. Clearly the two different modes of writing can become blurred. Not a bad thing. Everyone chooses how best to tell the story, whether it be news or entertainment. We have rules, but how we use them is where the creativity comes into play.

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