The poem/prose observation prompt, based on my memory of an old B&W I used to have (NOT 1879). Gaaaahhhhh, this was HARD! I am famous for my problems with this particular point of view. Trying to write something without sneaking in what someone is probably feeling or thinking or knowing made me tear what hair I have left out. But the exercise is gold, if pain is any indication. 😊 So, here’s a period piece. 🤣

Red, Rising, 1879

Cora’s doll sits rigid on the sward that slopes to the sea, peach-bisque limbs spread wide. Cora lies on her back a yard away, legs also spread in a vee. Three times, she will open then shut her book, then her eyes. A snarl of Cora’s black hair drifts towards water’s edge, towards the dock, towards tangles of bulbous seaweed. The stark, starched white of her dress, her bow, seeps into green. At moon’s early rise, sharp summons for dinner clap out from the turreted house, where gravy is ladled in silence and beef drippings spatter lace. Cora sits up. Sweat pearls her upper lip. She cramps and curls under the horned crescent. Soon she will trudge up the hill, swatting at swarms of midges crowning her forehead, freshly cut lawn clinging to the backs of her legs, bright red spreading on the back of her skirt. The doll will stay in the cold, wet grass, glass eyes set deep, unblinking. Vacant.

11 Comments

  1. Sarah Freligh

    Mikki, I always think of writing exercises as the equivalent of practicing scales on the piano or the violin: they’re necessary for warming up, necessary to strengthen our various muscles, necessary to learning how this can be that.

    What this particular exercise tries to do, I think, is instruct us in how actions — especially in a very short story — have to be more than physical action, what I call to-ing and fro-ing. In third person objective, the actions have to rise to a level of significance so that they convey a judgment or emotion or both. Gildner never tells us Ronald is confused or distraught or grieving or whatever else he’s feeling after coming home from the war– he conveys that Ronald’s actions, in the chain of actions that work together in a narrative trajectory (that spirals down, as far as I can see).

    I’m betting he wrote a couple hundred drafts to get to these 291 words.

    I’m thinking first and foremost that the story — and/or Cora — need a conflict. She was sitting outside about to read her book when it started to rain. Or something, anything that drops us into a state of unstable equilibrium from the get (it’s short, it has to be from the get). Write what she does, how she acts. Yes, there will be to-ing and fro-ing and that’s fine. Go back to the to and fro and either omit them or revise them into significance (see above).

    And that’s pretty much that.

    • Mikki Aronoff

      Thanks, Sarah. I know you’re spot on. There’s no story here, and I was embarrassed to post it, but I was running out of steam! But I will continue to work on it in that direction!

      • Sarah Freligh

        But there CAN be a story. And will be, I know! I will look for it in a journal soon.

  2. MaxieJane Frazier

    Hi Mikki, to jump on with what Sarah is saying, is the story in the red of her starched white dress? And how to bring that conflict in earlier so that we realize, again through the actions as Sarah said, that we are witnessing innocence or at least childhood left behind. I loved what that observation told us about the moments leading up to her move back to the house and the cutting off of things like lawns (and childhood toys).

    • Mikki Aronoff

      Hi! Yes, the story is her first period. This started out (unsuccessfully/unfinished) as a poem, and now I’m trying to squeeze a story out of it. I have a lot of thinking to do! I appreciate your comments very much. Thank you so much!

  3. Catherine Parnell

    Mikki, There is so much detail here that I lost myself in the language … wow. And what Sarah said about writing exercises as practice — I often see them as rehearsals! Writers are conductors for sure.

  4. Chelsea Stickle

    The details in this are great, Mikki! I actually like the lack of internal thoughts in this one. It’s not one of my favorite techniques, but in this piece it has me curious instead of shut-out.

  5. Traci Mullins

    Mikki, wherever you end up taking this, kudos to you for such an original approach to conveying a girl’s first menses. I’d love to know more about this character, her relationships with those back at the house, where she lands emotionally. You may have to use a different POV to tap into all the richness that could be explored.

  6. Kathryn Silver-Hajo

    Hi Mikki, as far as I’m concerned you (we!) should never be embarrassed by what comes or doesn’t come in our writing at any given moment. This is a beautifully told vignette with such lovely, precise details as you always have: “The stark, starched white of her dress, her bow, seeps into green. At moon’s early rise, sharp summons for dinner clap out from the turreted house, where gravy is ladled in silence and beef drippings spatter lace.” Beautiful! To me this feels like it’s setting the scene for a longer story and I hope you stick with it. I loved being in workshop with you again, Mikki. Yay!

  7. Kathryn Kulpa

    Hi Mikki,
    Sorry to be late to the party but I just wanted to comment on how richly visual this is. I thought it was her first period, the end of childhood, but there were also a few details that made me wonder if something sinister had gone on or was going on. Family violence? The summons from the house feels ominous; the detail of beef drippings spattering lace feels like a violent metaphor. Is the sweat that “pearls” (love the verb) her upper lip only from heat, or is she afraid to return for that silent dinner? I’m not sure if you intended this creepy over-layer, but it’s there if you want to go down that path!

    • Mikki Aronoff

      Thanks for this look at it, Kathryn. I hadn’t intended anything sinister, but now, hmmmmmm. Thanks for this new avenue!

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