Saturday, September 22, 2007

A writing exercise

I picked this exercise up at Write Stuff. The idea was to read this short story and then answer the following questions:

1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?

The title is "Attempted". The story is about an attempted suicide. The narrator also makes reference to "So like me. So almost." suggesting that not quite finishing things is characteristic of her, but there's no other indication of this in the story.

2. What is the predominant element in the story - plot, theme, character, setting?

Character. Specifically, the sixteen-year-old narrator and her parents.

3. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?

Between the narrator's emotional needs and her parent's' inability/disinclination to supply them. Also, between the parents' (and society's) expectations and the narrator's inability to meet them.

4. How is the conflict resolved?

It isn't. We get good indications that the parents care a lot more for their daughter than she thinks, but the daughter either doesn't recognize these clues or doesn't find them satisfactory. It's possible some serious conversation might go on after the end of the story, but the story doesn't hold out a lot of hope.

5. How does the author handle characterization?
a. by description?
b. conversation of the characters?
c. actions of the characters?
d. combination of these methods?

D. The narrator is characterized by "conversation", that is, the internal monologue that forms the narrative thread. The father's character is revealed almost entirely by action, the mother's by description (she seems to talk quite a bit, but most of her speech isn't actually reported).

6. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?

Difficult to say, since it's not an "action" story. The emotional high point is clearly the point where the father kisses his daughter on top of the head.

7. Does this story create any special mood?

I think the author was trying for pathos.

8. Is this story realistic or true to life? Explain your answers by giving examples.

If there's anything unrealistic, it's that the narrator's reasons for trying to commit suicide seem a bit thin. I can't really give any examples, though. Also, I'm not sure a hospital would allow an attempted teen suicide case to leave without at least talking to a counselor.

9. What is the general theme of the story? What is the underlying theme?

It seems more like an exercise in character development. There may be a theme going about how actions (father's) speak louder than words (mother's), but that may have more to do with my current preoccupations.

10. Did you identify with any of the characters?


11. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the reader? If so, what?

Mostly irritation, for me. The moment with the father is meant to be moving, but it comes too early in the action and reduces the interaction with the mother to bathos. Also it really doesn't seem like anything has changed. As an early scene (or a flashback scene) in a novel, it could be useful, but as a stand-alone story it seems pointless.

12. Name one major personality trait of each leading character, and tell how the author makes the reader conscious of this trait.

For the narrator, poor self-esteem-- obvious from the fact she's trying to commit suicide. The mother, tendency to be overtly emotional and to babble ("reactor meltdown", "monologue"). Father, inexpressive and talks very little ("twenty-degree rise of left eyebrow" = "out of control", "generic, eight-word sentence").

13. Does the story have a moral? If not, what do you think the purpose of the author was?

I don't think there was a "moral". I think the purpose was, as much as anything, to experiment with the different ways that the characters were handled.

14. Did you like it? Why or why not?

No. It was technically competent, but completely unimaginative.

15. Finally, why do you think this story placed in the top five in the Writer’s Digest Short Story competition?

I have no idea.

1 comment:

PaulS said...

Excellent analysis. Couldn't have done better myself. I am particularly impressed with your honesty here and at the write stuff site. The story placed highly because the competition was a popularity contest not a writing contest. I have no time but I will return to read your work as soon as I have.