Until This Is Over - Bit 3
This post is the third in the Story Course series. If you just subscribed or just discovered this post, please start with the first post.
Let’s talk about the second bit of Until This Is Over. You might find it helpful to open the previous post in a separate window so you can refer to those new story paragraphs as you read these notes.
An inventory of my observations
What I noticed, and what I wondered and felt as I noticed them:
“He stepped inside.” - Would you have walked uninvited and unobserved into an unfamiliar house? Few of us would do that, I think. That discrepancy between the protagonist’s behavior and “expected” behavior escalates the mood of discomfort that began in the first bit, and it creates the first possibility of conflict in the story.
“angled slash of light” - Another slash. Remember the jet contrail “slash” from an earlier paragraph?
“blood pulsing” - Gulp.
He’s not being stealthy, is he? In fact, he seems pretty casual. Almost comfortable. Maybe he’s not a burglar — or worse — after all.
“a set of keys, a red leather wallet, a pair of drugstore sunglasses” - These sound like a woman’s possessions, right?
“…and a box cutter.” - Well, okay, there are boxes to open, but…
He picks up the box cutter and fiddles with it. Maybe it’s a nervous fidget, right? But he doesn’t seem nervous. So maybe, instead, he has a thing for knives. I was wary before. I’m on full alert now.
A woman enters. Without either of them saying anything, the tension is increased, just by her presence in the scene, through our anticipation of what comes next.
Finally, there’s this evocative bit of scene painting: “…her body a dark silhouette sliced out of the brightness” - More slicing.
In only seven paragraphs, we have:
and a knife
This can’t be a coincidence, right?
The short story form, second only to poetry, demands economy and precision. There are only so many words you can fit into a story without it becoming something else (a novella, for example), so the importance of every word is paramount. If, in the first seven paragraphs of a story, we encounter three slash / slice words, a wound, blood, and a knife, the writer MUST have something up their sleeve.
Or not. All of this could be a red herring.
Either way, the accrual of these active, aggressive images is starting to feel like Chekhov’s gun, isn’t it? Like a promise has been made?
In a variation of our “What do you think will happen next?” question, take a moment to think about these questions:
What would you do next if you were “he”? In particular, what would you do next if you were the “he” that you imagine him to be at this point in your reading.
What would you do next if you were “she”?
After you’ve pondered those questions for a moment, read the next bit of the story, all the while holding in your mind the things you’ve noticed, the things you’re wondering about, and your vacillating sense of what “he” is up to. (That is, if you have that vacillating sense. If you don’t, tell us about it in the comments.)
“Can I help you?” She spoke with a voice clipped and too loud for the empty room. She took one tentative step, then stopped. She’d moved out of the backlight of the doorway, and he could see her face, her jaw set and her brow knotted, alert and wary. She held a cell phone in one hand, raised to her chest, her thumb wrapped around the front and pressed against the touchscreen. She looked at the box cutter in his hand.
“No,” he said quickly. “I…” He stopped. “I’m sorry.” He lay the knife on the counter carefully and without a sound. “I just...” He smiled weakly and raised his hands, palms forward in a gesture of surrender. He dropped his chin toward the floor and looked up at her, but her expression and pose were unchanged. He lowered his hands to his sides and took a step back. “All of your doors are open.”
She nodded slightly. “Yeah, I’m moving stuff.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I called out a couple of times but I didn’t hear anyone.”
“I was out back on the phone.” She shook her head slightly. “So you just let yourself in?”
“Well, no, the door was open. I saw the moving truck. I guess curiosity just got the better of me.” He raised his hands again, apologetically. “Hey, you know, I’m sorry. I’ll get out of here.” He turned away and started toward the front room.
“Are you one of the neighbors?” she asked, her voice still short and sharp.
We have some new elements in the story: a second character, dialogue, conflict, some behaviors that are more active. Take some time for these new details to bump around in your head, read this bit of the story again, then jump into the comments and share your thoughts — what did you notice, wonder, feel, what’s next? When you’re ready, here’s the next post in this Story Course.
Reminder: If you haven’t already, please drop a “hello” note in the Get Acquainted post.
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