I joined a writing group several years ago and quickly saw that I was outnumbered. Everyone except me wrote poetry or fiction; some people wrote both. I read, enjoyed, and critiqued their submissions, and they read and critiqued mine. Hard to say whether they enjoyed them or not. I occasionally said things like, “I wish I could write fiction, but I just can’t.” Sometimes I’d switch it up a little and say, “If I had imaginations like you guys, I could write fiction, but I’m just not creative enough.”
Their unanimous reply: yes, you can. With their encouragement and tutelage, I’m experimenting a little and have been fortunate enough to get some stories published. Buoyed by publication and hope, I want to walk down the fiction path a little further. I’m working on some ideas the group gave me to improve a story a couple of weeks ago: (1) embed the facts into the narrative instead of having them stuck there in textbook form. (2) give the protagonist a voice—or better yet, a backbone. She’s too subservient.
Remembering the adage about good readers being good writers, I read (in some cases, reread) several short stories to see how the authors introduced the story, developed the plot, and described the characters (their appearance and personalities). Every story I read dealt with social injustice or some other universal theme without spelling it out. Everything was embedded. I can do this, I thought.
But then I read Faulkner’s “That Evening Sun” and wondered Who do you think you’re kidding? You can’t do this. The man was a master. He wrote novels, screenplays, short stories, essays, and poetry. He also said, “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t try to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” So I’m not comparing myself to someone like him or any other famous writer. I’m just trying to do better than myself.
Some say all human emotions can be narrowed down to varieties of sad, glad, mad, and scared. Naturally, this concept is more complex than it sounds on the surface. Ever thought of the degrees of sadness? Some people are sad because they that they don’t get to eat pizza, while others are so depressed that they feel it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Here’s a quote from a clinically depressed woman: “I felt like I was walking waist deep in mud every day.” It’s not my intention to go down that road. I just want to mention that Faulkner’s words evoked each of those emotions and their nuances except for glad in “That Evening Sun.” There’s nothing to be glad, happy, joyful, or even positive about in that story.
We feel the terror (scared) Nancy feels as she knows Jesus (her husband) is lying in wait to kill her; annoyance at Caddy’s mother who’s perturbed (anger) that her husband is actually going to leave her all alone to walk Nancy home; angry with Mr. Stovall who kicked Nancy in the mouth with his heel just because she asked him when he was going to pay her; and heavy sadness when she spat out blood and teeth. As mentioned above, there was nothing to be glad about. The poor soul tried to hang herself, and after the jailer revives her, he beats her. As a friend of mine would say, “Dayum.”
I’m not giving up or saying, “I can’t.” Although I won’t be able to rise to Faulkner’s level in embedding social injustice in this harsh, sad story, I can take his advice and try to be better than myself…better than yesterday. I don’t have to rise to Faulkner’s level…or to that of my contemporaries.
P. S. I’m sad and mad and scared as I think of the social injustice that exists today. Faulkner’s story deals with racial inequality; mine deals with gender differences. My protagonist has choices; Nancy doesn’t. Read the story; you won’t be sorry.