I wrote a quick short story a couple of days ago. I followed a challenge that Figment had posted. Each week, the creative writing site hosts a young adult author who assigns prompts and fun games for online users. This week’s guest was Geoff Herbach. His presence on YouTube is well-known, and he is also the author of young adult novel “Stupid Fast” and the upcoming novel “Nothing Special.”
Herbach recently wrote about how to incorporate personal voice into short stories. I just love the way he explained voice through a video. It’s so much better than reading long blog posts. I can see why young adults would love him. His basic message for writers is that voice should reflect the writer’s personality, not the writer’s idol’s personality.
1. YOU HAVE A CHARACTER WHO DRIVES.
2. A BIRD HITS THE WINDSHIELD.
3. THE WINDSHIELD CRACKS.
4. YOUR CHARACTER PULLS OVER.
5. THE BIRD IS HOLDING A TINY SCROLL IN ITS LITTLE, DEAD BIRD CLAW.
6. YOUR CHARACTER READS THE SCROLL.
7. IT IS A MESSAGE ADDRESSED TO YOUR CHARACTER!
You’ll see the story below. I took the plot of a WIP story and used it in this setting.
I had a lot of fun with this. I didn’t even notice that I was writing more than a thousand words!
I could have taken one of my kitchen knives and stuck it right between Paul’s shoulder blades. I could have emptied our joint bank account and ran his precious Mercedes into a random light pole. I could have driven this crappy Nissan 1997 to the Hamptons and picked up a beach blond guy half my age on the side.
But I’m not in a Lifetime movie. I’m just another woman who has a cheating husband.
I’m nothing special. Obviously. Or else Paul wouldn’t have decided to break my trust.
When Paul came home and planted a perfunctory kiss on me tonight, I instantly knew I needed to leave. Leave before I…I don’t know lost control. ‘Cause right now, I’m past my boiling point.
“Goddamnit!” I shout in my car, assured that no one can hear me in my little bubble of woe.
I need a drink.
Give me liberty, or give my Red Death. Some vodka, peach liqueur…oh yes. Perfect. I need them to drown out the image of Paul and his thing fooling around last afternoon when I came home early for work.
As I reach the end of a scenic Brooklyn block, my eyes stray to the shadowed form of a prostitute showing off her midriff and wearing a red leather skirt as she leans against a blue brick building. She has one leg propped up against the wall and a cig dangling between her cherry lips.
She looks just like my daughter Riley who, by the way, just uploaded an interesting Facebook picture from her 21st birthday. One day I happened to ‘stumble across’ said photo. I told her to take it down.
She unfriended me.
A part of my mind tells me to jet out of the car and wrap a blanket around that girl – who is someone’s girl out there – and give her a cup of steaming milk and chocolate chip cookies. Then another part of my mind imagines the police car that’s parked around here, waiting for any commotion to barge onto the scene. I see myself being slammed against the wall, having the cuffs roughly slapped onto my wrists. As all of this goes down, I’m screaming, “I’m a mother! I’m a mother!”
I shake my head. I place two hands on the wheel. And I stomp on the gas pedal.
No red light. No red light, I repeat to myself. If I stop again, I know I won’t be able to stem the tears building behind my eyes.
I’ll just end up crying in my car, and the teenagers who stop next to me at the red light will cackle at the sight of me.
But, who cares! I am a woman! I am a feminist! I am –
“Mother of – ”
Out of God-freakin’ nowhere, some bird collides with my windshield.
I wrench my steering wheel to the right, trying to avoid the inevitable. My heart stops. I hear the tires screeching and the angry honks of some guy behind me who’s probably late for dinner and doesn’t want to be on his wife’s shit list.
My right tire hits the nearest curb, and I manage to get the rest of the car under control.
I sigh angrily and throw a good punch at the stirring wheel. Now I’ll have to call Animal Control or something to get this shit off my window. I can’t do it myself; that’s disgusting.
“Hey, you all right, lady?” An African-American guy peeks through the window on my side. Behind him, I see a small group of nosy senior citizens gathering across the street.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. Can’t say the same for this bird though.”
“You want me to call someone? The ambulance?”
I wave a hand at him. “No. Just…just call the animal guys. No ambulance, though.”
I do the right thing and censor all profanity that’s flittering through my mind. “Yes. Please.” The man nods at me and assures me that I’ll be okay.
I slowly release myself from the seat belt constraints and gingerly move my legs. Good, they work.
Blowing a few blond strands from my face, I lean closer and check the damage. I spy a small crack that’ll probably take $400 to fix. Great. At least I didn’t crack my neck. Once my blood stops boiling, my shoulders begin to relax and my conscience stops its swearing.
Poor bird, some part of me thinks. It still looks peaceful in death.
I press my nose against the window and squint my eyes. Is that…? Really?
I kick my door open and scramble to get near the bird. The guy from before is on his cell, and the crowd is slowly beginning to disperse. No one important died so this accident is nothing to look at, I guess.
Back to the bird. I see that under one of his limp claws, he’s holding some kind of scroll.
“Ew, ew,” I mutter, as I gently pry the bird’s claw open. The bird relents and the scroll rolls into my left palm. It’s small and slightly damp with avian blood, but I ignore my germophobic thoughts and curiosity takes over.
I roll out the paper. I feel like I’m Nicholas Cage.
I read: MOVE ON.
Those words are written in some kind of charcoal that’s rubbing off on my hands. I flip the piece of paper to see if there’s anything on its back, but nothing. No signature. No explanation.
I glance up, checking to see if there’s some creep peeping from his window or rooftop. My eyes catch nothing but laundry dangling from homemade lines and one wrinkly man who’s slumbering away on a cemented porch.
“Shit,” I mumble, dropping the slip onto the oil-drenched road. I glance back at the innocent bird who couldn’t have known what was coming.
Okay, I’m officially creeped out. Who cares about Animal Control? I roll up a newspaper that was lying on the sidewalk. With a few prods, the bird tumbles over and lands on top a sewage gutter. The rain will wash it away.
“Hey, miss, they’re coming soon,” the cell guy says to me.
“Oh well,” I answer, sliding back into my car.
As I drive away, I glance at my rearview mirror, as if searching for the paper. I can still see the words in my mind.
“Move on,” I whisper. If only it was that easy.
I’m still going to that damn bar.