An Exegesis for Second Chance: A Short Story with a Social Conscience

 

One of my short stories ‘Second Chance’, which is featured in the short story collection: Tales for the Sisterhood, is about a young girl who is struggling to cope with the devastating effects of bullying.

My prime motivation behind this story is firstly the subject of bullying, which is a serious social-cultural community issue.

Bullying has been placed centrestage under the media spotlight, and anti-bullying programs and initiatives have been introduced into schools in an effort to try to stop this destructive behaviour, which is endured by children and adolescents, and also in the workplace.

TV shows such as A Current Affair and 60 Minutes have shown that bullying has become more insidious due to social media usage by young people, through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This online form of bullying is more invasive and it is difficult for young people to switch off from its effects.

Days have gone by where bullying was confined to the school-yard, its presence can now invade into personal living spaces.

My second motivation for this story came from my own experiences with bullying at primary and high school, during which time I was also struggling to cope with a family unit breakdown. Due to my love of painting and writing, I found it therapeutic to express my thoughts and feelings in this creative way.

During my university journey, I conducted research into bullying and different forms of therapy, while creating Second Chance. Organisations like the Sydney Centre for Creative Change hold workshops and courses for youth workers, and offer creative therapy for young people who are dealing with trauma. These classes not only aim to build an artistic skill base, but to empower students to solve problems creatively.

Creative therapy provides a positive course of action that can be taken by the sufferer, giving them back some control.

A lot of my own teenage angst was responsible for creating the character Kara, minus her physical responses to bullying. Like Kara, my favourite subject was Art, and besides English, these subjects were the only ones I succeeded in. As this short story is aimed towards the Young Adult market, in particular, high school students, I wanted the narrative to be primarily from Kara’s perspective on her world, and I hoped to capture the pain of her struggles in such a short word count.

My own reading of young adult novels like John Marsden’s Winter and Amanda Hocking’s Switched, also inspired me to present Kara as the conflicted and misunderstood heroine, who begins her journey towards a psychological transformation, through a Creative Therapy Class.

My other literary challenge was how to begin the narrative. I wanted to highlight Kara’s home life as well as her school-related abuse and then briefly show the beginnings of her personal victory. I decided to include the ‘cutting’ that she considers earlier in the narrative. I have heard that young people can sometimes make the heartbreaking decision to resort to self-mutilation to try to control their emotional pain.

Kara’s choice to use the ‘fight not flight’ response is due to her repressed frustration; not that this is an excuse or an acceptable response to bullying. A young person should stand up to victimisation, but they should not have to do this ‘standing up’ on their own. A strong support system of friends, family members or counselors should stand with them.

The use of creative therapy is not a solution to bullying or other stressful events that can occur in childhood or adolescents, but it is one conduit through which young people can channel their thoughts and feelings, within a safe environment.

My hope is that the short story ‘Second Chance’ may inspire young people to share their stories and not stay silent about bullying. Help and support is available.

 

Here is a excerpt from Second Chance. 

 

The computer screen flickered, which meant that another post was being entered onto my Facebook feed. I turned toward the computer and stared at the words.
“Yur such an ugly useless fat bitch. It wuld b beta if U were ded!!!”

Even though they were just words on a screen, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Although I went to a small country school, I was not immune to the normal school-yard bullying, but now that it had
begun to invade my private and personal space, it seemed that there was nowhere to hide. In the past, I had tried to stand up for myself in an effort to stop the bullying, but it usually escalated into an ugly fight, and I
had been expelled more than once.

The only part of school that I did like was art class, especially when we would use watercolours. My teacher, Mrs Anders, had taught us to use a hair dryer to make the water mix with the paint. I found it fascinating to watch the colours swirl into a multitude of patterns like a kaleidoscope. She would always praise me for my work. “You have such a talent, Kara. Your work is so vibrant.” I would never reply, but in my heart I felt something stir.

 

The full story and other short stories in the Sisterhood Collection are available through Amazon or the Book Depository.

 

Anti-bullying campaigns and related websites. 

ChooseREAL Campaign

Make Bullying History Foundation

 

 

References.

Chloe’s Law, 60 Minutes 2013, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 10 November. YouTube.

Hocking, Amanda 2012, Switched, St Martin’s Press, New York.

I would get death threats”: A Current Affair 2011, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 21 September.

Marsden, John 2000, Winter, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited.

Sydney Centre for Creative Change

Understanding Teen Cutting and Self-Injury Boystown.org.

Top Five Creative Tips for Writing a Story

 

Writing a story can be a great experience, seeing your own little world come to life, but sometimes the art of creativity can be a challenge, so here are top five creative tips for writing a story

1. Write a Story in 100 Words.

Micro, flash or nano fiction is a great way to brainstorm story ideas and practice brevity in our writing. Specific word choices, a controlled use of adverbs and adjectives, and simple description can make the difference between a good story and a great one. Writing to a strict word count is good discipline and will tighten up your literary skills.

2. Create a Character Profile.

Characters are the heart and soul of your story. Try writing a story without a character. If it can be done, I have never encountered it, but it might make for an interesting creative exercise, besides this one as indicated below:

Start your story by creating a character profile.

Name

Physical Description

Age

Now start to build your storyworld around that character by answering these seven questions:

What does their world look like?

What is their social status, rich or poor, working class.

Who are their friends? Do they have any friends?

Do they have an enemy, a nemesis?

What is their MDQ (major dramatic question) they are trying to find the answer to? What is their goal?

What is the challenge they are trying to overcome?

Do they have any internal conflicts, do they harbour a dark secret, do they suffer from depression?

3. Make a List of Story Settings.

A setting creates a strong visual for your reader and sets them up for the rest of the narrative. Creating a unique setting can be challenging, so try thinking outside the narrative box.

An ancient city inside the earth
A haunted forest
An alternate universe
A setting from your last holiday
A civilization inside the cracks in the pavement
Inside the broom cupboard
A scene from your favourite novel

4. Write a Story Based on a Dream.

I dream a lot and sometimes my dream-life can be more exciting than my real one. So when I feel that my creative bank has been depleted, I just use one of my dreams and go from there.

So leave a notepad next to your bed and in the morning jot down some details from a dream that you think would make an interesting story.

5. Write a Narrative Based on a Media Story or Your Own Real Life Event.

When we think of the words creative writing we think in the terms of fiction, but the cliché ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ can also inspire our writing. A lot of what we see or read about in the media world is derived from true events, and our everyday lives can prove to be more riveting, inspiring or shocking than anything that is created in Hollywood.

Watching the daily news can shift from being a boring social practice, a front row seat to an out of control crazy world, to a rich melting pot for creative ideas. You can take an unsolved crime and create your own ending, or take a television personality (change their name of course) and weave a story around them.

These top five tips for writing a story should inspire you, but try brainstorming your own, and maybe drop me a line about your story ideas.

Happy writing!

 

 

Image.

Lisa Simpson. Writing is the hardest thing ever!

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Write a Gripping Ending To A Story

 

 

“Have you thought of an ending?”
“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.”
“Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”
“It will do well, if it ever came to that.”
“Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

J. R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

This week we are talking about how to write a gripping ending to a story.  Ending a story is always a difficult part of the writing process for me. When the final line has been written or typed, and there is nothing else for the characters to do, and victory has been won and the antagonist vanquished – I shed a tear.  You may think me to be a tad melodramatic, but I have just finished the first draft of my first novel.  And I feel a sense of satisfaction that is tinged with sadness. 

But all stories have to end sometimes, don’t they?  When it comes to your literary masterpiece, the question needs to be asked, “Have you thought of an ending?” (Tolkien).  So here are some tips on how to write a gripping end to a short story.

Like the beginning of a story, there are many ways to end a piece of fiction. You can choose to end your story with a satisfying conclusion – with all the loose ends tied up.  Most of us enjoy this type of ending. The neat and tidy ending is so popular because, unlike real life, a story can provide us with a guaranteed resolution of conflict. We can have our desired happy ending and everyone lives ‘happily every after’. 

But for those of us who choose to defy traditional story-telling techniques, there is the option of a ‘surprise ending’ or an ‘open ending’.  By daring to be different we can ultimately leave the reader desiring more. So let us go a step further and explore the different ways that you can craft your ending and leave an indelible impression on your reader’s mind.

The circular ending

 This type of ending is when the story concludes with a mirror image of the beginning.  It is a circular journey where the characters return to the same scene at the beginning, but they have learned some valuable lessons.  They may look or still be dressed the same but they have been transformed on the inside. 

The ending of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is one of the best examples I can think of.  Although the children do not enter Narnia in the first paragraph, but in the first couple of pages, the ending mirrors this section of the story.  As in the beginning, the children tumble out of the wardrobe and are met again by the sound of the footsteps of Mrs. Macready and her guests in the hallway.

The surprise ending

Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’ is a great example of a surprise ending.  In the beginning, Mrs. Mallard is notified that her husband has died in a tragic train accident.  The majority of the narrative focuses on Mrs. Mallard’s conflicting emotions over her husband’s sudden demise and reveals some interesting revelations about his abusive nature. 

As her ‘streams of consciousness‘ show her dramatic shift from the grief-stricken widow to a woman who has discovered the guilty pleasure of an overwhelming revelation that she is now free from her husband’s suffocating control, there is a clever twist at the end.  Brently Mallard was well and truly alive, and seeing him at the bottom of the stairs, not only fatally shocked his wife, but shocked me as well.  This kind of ending is not everyone’s ideal ending, but Chopin’s ironic and tragic twist contributed to the overall tragic mood of the story.

The ‘open’ ending

Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand is one of the best examples of an ‘open’ ending I have read.  Although I am a fan of defying traditional narrative expectations, I initially was quite shocked and disappointed by her choice of ending.  I really wanted to know what happened to the main character, Dick Young, who had become addicted to a drug that enabled him to travel back in time to the fourteenth-century in Kilmarch, Cornwall.  At the end of the book, Young is back in the safety of his home and under the expert care of the resident doctor.  But whilst on the phone to his wife, he suddenly looses consciousness, and this is where the novel concludes.  Du Maurier had left me high and dry and I was devastated.  I wanted to know what happened to Dick, did he die? Did he return to the past?  So many questions and absolutely no answers. 

But in hindsight, Du Maurier’s ‘open’ ending was another example of clever writing.  She had provided me with an opportunity to dream up my own ending.  As the passive reader, she was giving me some narrative power and inviting me to write my own conclusion and to decide upon Dick Young’s ultimate fate.

The trick ending

‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce is a good example of a trick ending.  At the beginning of the story, a man is being hanged.  Bierce provides quite a densely packed narrative about the man’s supposed dramatic escape. But it is not until the man reaches his home and family that we are told that he, “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge”. 

In writing this story, Bierce had drawn upon the idea that moments before death a person can be subject to hallucinations, and he uses this to trick us into believing that Peyton had cleverly escaped his death sentence.  With his trick ending, Bierce reveals that Peyton had only imagined that he had successfully cheated death!

The summary ending.

This technique is used a lot in film-making.  At the end of the film, the audience is shown a written summary that tells them about the final outcomes for each of the characters – they get married, they succeed in business, etc.  As in films, this choice of ending provides a feel-good ending for the reader. The hero or heroine are victorious, the villains are punished and justice is served.

I have provided you with just a few choices for the ending of your story. But whichever one you decide to choose, your purpose should always be to leave a lingering impression or a dynamic image in the reader’s mind.  As writers, we have the power to entertain and inspire the reader but to also challenge their literary expectations. Have fun writing your gripping ending for your story

Happy writing!

 

Next week: It’s all about the characters.

 

Image: Freeimages.com

Write a Dynamic Opening for a Story

 

When it comes to writing a short story there are two important structural guidelines to remember: the ‘beginning and ending‘.  Although there are other guidelines, the ‘beginning and ending’ of a short story are considered to be among the most important.  These guidelines apply to novels as well, but for a short story, there is a limited word count in which to offer an intriguing storyworld.  So let us get started in exploring how to write a dynamic opening for a story.

A story’s opening paragraph should be designed to capture a reader’s imagination and inspire them to read more.  The opening paragraph acts as a pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter so that they can journey successfully through your story.  There are many ways of beginning a story: setting, character description, action, a statement, an idea, or posing a question.

1. SETTING

Your setting could be a location: a windswept beach, a dark Dystopian city, a magical underwater world, or a simple hobbit’s hole as described by J. R. R. Tolkien on the opening page of The Hobbit – “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: It was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

2. CHARACTER DESCRIPTION

The opening lines can introduce your main protagonist, for example –“Ella leaned back against the cold damp stone wall. Her porcelain skin was pale and drawn, with deep lines etched around her eyes and mouth, and her once glorious golden hair hung in matted tendrils around her face.”

3. ACTION

Starting your story with strong action is a great choice as it thrusts the reader into the thick of the story.  “The baying of the hunting dogs drew closer as he dashed through the thickly wooded forest.  Like a mad man, he fought his way through the close-knit trees, until he was suddenly redeemed by a burst of bright sunlight as he stumbled out of the forest into a small clearing.”

4. A STATEMENT

The iconic opening statement in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is dramatic, poetic and memorable, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of our despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .”

5. AN IDEA

How about Jane Austen’s opening line in the classic novel, Pride and Prejudice – “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Starting your story with an idea can really get your reader thinking.  Although they may not agree with your idea, they can be compelled to read on to see where this idea will take them.

6. A QUESTION

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White.  Beginning your story with a question sets up intrigue in the reader’s mind.  You have provided them with a question that needs to be answered and they must commit to the whole story to discover the answer.

I have provided just a few tips on how to write a dynamic opening for a story in a way that will capture your reader’s imagination.

 

Next week: We will explore the creative possibilities for your story’s ending.

 

Image.

Books

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